High hopes, soaring spirits
Published: Saturday, January 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 1, 2005 at 12:46 a.m.
Area residents celebrate the new year with confetti, reflection
As they swayed close together to the vibrant beats of steel drums and trumpets wailing reggae rhythms, Ariel Sandoval and her fiance, Alfred Garcia, were surrounded by more than 3,000 jubilant revelers Friday night to ring in the new year at the Downtown Countdown in Gainesville.
With plenty of libations, live music, food and fun, the newly engaged Albuquerque, N.M., couple, who plan to move to Gainesville soon, shared kisses and nonstop smiles as they waited to greet 2005.
"This is awesome," said Sandoval, who donned a glittery "Happy New Year's" tiara. "We ate at Hooters, walked down here, and we're having a great time. People need to check this out."
A midnight confetti launch helped usher in the new year, along with plenty of bubbly - something Shawn Shepherd, general manager of Harry's of Gainesville, made sure he had plenty of. As the party raged on right outside the eatery's front door, Shepherd said that one of his biggest expectations of the new year is that the economy will pick up.
And with constant streams of hungry patrons in and out his door, Shepherd said he's thankful the city put on the event, which was expected to bring in thousands of dollars to downtown businesses.
"It's just a wonderful night downtown," Shepherd said. "I hope people take fond memories from this celebration."
Laural DeWild, events coordinator for the city's department of cultural affairs, shares the same hope.
DeWild said the event was revamped this year to include an outdoor "spirit zone" - a barricaded area in front of the stage for people to drink outside - and an expanded VIP area that cost $15 per chair or $75 for a table for six. A wide-screen TV was set up so Gator fans could follow the Peach Bowl, and the Plaza Ice Palace stayed busy as dozens of people whirled and twirled around the rink. DeWild said that the additions to this year's celebrations were a renaissance.
"It's now inclusive of all of downtown - not just the plaza," she said. "It's a chance for everyone to have a camaraderie with the local community and have fun ringing in the new year with a big crowd. This is where the party is in Gainesville tonight."
But for those who planned to party and drive under the influence on New Year's Eve, a trip to jail and hefty fines might have awaited them. Gainesville Police, along with other area law enforcement agencies, were out in full force at New Year's events and had zero tolerance for impaired drivers, GPD Lt. Don Dennis said.
"Our goal is to prevent people from getting injured or killed," Dennis said. "Fatals are down in the city - we're aggressively enforcing traffic laws." Dennis said more than 25 officers would man the checkpoint at 6900 Archer Road.
For Gainesville resident Carolynne Slimm, 29, and her friends who partied into the night downtown, finding a designated driver was easy - a taxi. Happy to get a break from work and planning her 2005 wedding, Slimm danced and laughed as she enjoyed her favorite spirit, Michelob Light, in the "spirit zone."
The tsunami that struck South Asia and the Boston Red Sox victory in the World Series topped her list of unforgettable moments in 2004, but Slimm said she's serious about sticking to her New Year's resolution - a resolution many vow to keep.
"I need to work on money management," Slimm said with a laugh.
Deborah Ball can be reached at (352) 374-5036 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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