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BRACK: New Duluth tradition rises to great fanfare

Special Photo. Duluth unveils the soaring spirit ball at the countdown to the new year on Dec. 31.

Special Photo. Duluth unveils the soaring spirit ball at the countdown to the new year on Dec. 31.

Give a round of applause to the City of Duluth for innovation and creation in its New Year's Eve celebration.

I'm talking about the way Duluth ushered in the new year not with the traditional dropping of a ball, but with its distinctive "Duluth Soaring" event on New Year's Eve. In effect, instead of a ball dropping, the thousands in attendance saw a sphere, with a "wings of spirit" and crown logo of Duluth, go up at midnight, reaching the City Hall clock, amid fireworks soaring.

Though she now lives in Grayson, the person who came up with the idea to make Duluth "soar" in marking the new year is a graduate of Duluth High School. She is Jayne Madigan, class of 1979, who has been for 20 years an events coordinator for Discover Mills, the Atlanta Braves and the Mall of Georgia. She was hired in July by the city as a part-time events coordinator. The official theme was "May Your Spirit Soar in 2010."

The idea came to Jayne as she was sitting on the Town Green in September, seeking to come up with an idea for the New Year's Eve celebration.

"Looking at the City Hall clock tower, the thought came to me that a novel approach would be to have something rise, not fall," she said. "After all, that way we could have the City Hall clock in sight as the ball approached it at midnight. And it could signify the spirit of the new city logo and tagline, 'Capture the spirit of good living.'"

Having previously worked on the Atlanta Peach Drop, done by Entertainment Design Group of Austell, Jayne contacted the company.

"It seemed a natural fit, especially with the success they've had in the past." The firm works internationally on events and locally does the Great Tree and Fourth of July events at Lenox Square," she said.

The firm built a portable aluminum scaffold that would take the sphere to 65 feet high, giving the city the distinction of being the only event with a rising icon in the country. The sphere and icon weigh 250 pounds. It takes 70 seconds for the icon to rise to the clock. It took three weeks to build the tower and sphere, and a day to assemble it onsite.

Said Madigan: "We wanted not to compete with the Peach Drop, but to complement it, and give the people of Duluth a nearby unique alternative for New Year's."

Not only that, but the idea of having a ball rise was a secret. Even Mayor Nancy Harris and the Council didn't know what the novelty of the event would be. "Only I knew," Madigan said. She plans to continue the event in future years and have a different theme for each new year.

An adult gala was staged earlier that night. Some 185 patrons had a catered dinner at Wallace Reid Photography, then were escorted to the Red Clay Theatre for an improv comedy show, followed by dancing. At

11:30 p.m., the group had special seating in a tent for the midnight event.

"We've already had people telling us they wanted to go to the event next year," Madigan said.

Meanwhile, several Duluth merchants were open for others attending the night's events near the Duluth Town Green, including music and entertainment. It was an impressive way to start the new decade and is planned to be an annual event. It should gain Duluth a reputation for a novel approach to promoting when the clock strikes at midnight on future New Year's Eves, thanks to Jayne Madigan

Elliott Brack is the editor and publisher of GwinnettForum.com.