By Kevin Kelley
2011 is Westlake’s bicentennial year. So city leaders decided to ring in the new year twice.
In addition to a New Year’s Eve dinner party at LaCentre Conference and Banquet Facility from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m., a family-friendly event will take place at Crocker Park from 6:15 to 7 p.m. The earlier celebration is being planned in conjunction with leaders from Westlake’s sister city of Tralee, Ireland. Hosted by Kenny Crumpton of FOX 8, the event will include a video simulcast over the Internet with people in Tralee. Westlakers will count down to 2011 at 7 p.m., which is midnight in Tralee.
Planning for the event has been going on for weeks, with officials from Westlake’s bicentennial planning committee teleconferencing with Tralee officials over Skype during the last month.
The stage will be set up on Crocker Park Boulevard just east of Dick’s Sporting Goods and north of the Apple store. Entertainment begins at 6:15 p.m. with bagpipers and dancers.
Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough and the mayor of Tralee will each give greetings via the video screen.
Like all New Year’s Eve celebrations, the Crocker Park event will culminate with the countdown to the new year. During the final 60 seconds, a ball will drop — Times Square style — toward to Crocker Park stage while a video screen counts down the seconds. When 2011 arrives, fireworks will go off above Crocker Park, and a bagpiper here will play “Auld Lang Syne.”
The idea for a ball drop originated with Bob Parry, the city’s planning and economic development director. During a bicentennial planning committee meeting, another person mentioned the daytime New Year’s Eve celebration the Cleveland Zoo holds for families. Another person mentioned involving Tralee, and the project snowballed, Parry said.
“Everybody’s gotten excited about it,” he told West Life.
Initially Westlake officials were concerned the Tralee folks weren’t interested after e-mails seeking their involvement went unanswered. But when Westlake officials called their Tralee counterparts, they said they were indeed interested. As the bicentennial committee explained the project more, Tralee’s enthusiasm grew, Parry said.
“Now they’ve really gotten into it,” he said.
Darryl Whitehead, who’s spearheading Westlake’s bicentennial celebration efforts, said he originally would have been happy with Internet video of some people in a Tralee bar waiving as the clock struck midnight.
But a few weeks ago, Tralee officials asked for 15 minutes of time during the program to put on a mini-show, Whitewhead said.
John Griffin, development officer for Tralee, said the joint New Year’s Eve celebration fits in well with the sister cities relationship between Tralee and Westlake.
“We’ve been building up friendships with Westlake,” Griffin told West Life during a Skype teleconference with Westlake organizers Thursday. “We’re trying to build up different cultural links and economic links and tourism links.”
With the exception of the arrival of the new millennium, Tralee doesn’t ordinarily hold a major city celebration on New Year’s Eve, Griffin said. Most celebrations take place in hotels and bars, he said.
“But we will be popularizing this as a major city event for this year,” Griffin said, adding the televised Tralee program would be a three- or four-camera production.
“Two hundred years – it’s a wonderful celebration for Westlake, and we’re delighted to be invited and part of that,” he said.
Westlake resident Brett Luengo, who helped arrange the sister city relationship with Tralee, said he hopes the New Year’s Eve joint celebration will bring exposure to the sister city program.
Luengo was part of the Westlake delegation that visited Tralee in August 2009.
The venue for the Tralee celebration will be the Meadowlands Hotel and its Johnny Franks Bar, Luengo said.
Luengo was at the hotel and said the two-story bar, with its wood-paneled décor, is the perfect location for the Tralee netcast.
“It looks Irish,” he said of the bar. “It should be a good venue.”
Luengo made a visit to Tralee himself in October during a business trip to Europe.
“It feels like a home away from home,” Luengo said.