Downtown Countdown Cancelled
By Dan Breitwieser, WCJB TV 20 News.
It may not be Times Square, but the Downtown Countdown has helped residents ring in the New Year for almost a decade. Though budget cuts are hitting home, it wasn't the budget that directly cut the countdown.
Gainesville's celebration doesn't compare with the hundreds of thousands of people that pack the Big Apple. But it's was a big deal for many downtown businesses, and now it's a big disappointment that it's been called off for this year.
The downtown plaza is empty Thursday afternoon. There's no ice skating rink, and no one counting down to the Downtown Countdown. The spotlights are ready, but rewind a couple years, and they were actually getting used. The plaza played host for thousands of all ages to count down to the New Year.
Harry's is one of the restaurants that's profited from the Countdown, staying open late and doubling their usual business last year.
"I know people looked forward to it," says Harry's manager Vinnie Tieche. "I know people who worked here did very well money-wise, so they were looking forward to it again."
In years past, cars would have to go around Southeast 1st Street because it was shut down to make room for the stage. But this year, the streets are wide open for traffic.
"It's sad to see that something that is popular not happen," says Gainesville Cultural Affairs Manager Coni Gesualdi.
She adds cutting the Countdown came down to budget cuts. Most of the 15- to 25- thousand dollars that it costs to put on the event comes from sponsors and the city employee that oversees it left in may. Because of a soft hiring freeze, that person wasn't replaced until last week.
"When you have something that is an expenditure but is very little on the income side, it's really hard to justify it," says Gesualdi. "It's tough to keep it going."
But Tieche hopes it comes back in time for next year. Business-wise, he says it's like losing a Gator home football game.
"We only have 8 of those a year, so 1 more can really help," says Tieche.
Gesualdi says the biggest expense to the city is the 4- to 5- thousand dollars to pay Gainesville police officers to provide security. She hopes something can be put together for next year. But she adds more definite plans are on hold depending on how much space the construction of the downtown hotel takes up.
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