Celebrators watch the crown drop in uptown

Celebrators crowded the NASCAR Hall of Fame plaza in uptown on Wednesday night for CLT New Year’s Eve, a celebration held this year at WBT’s ice skating rink.

Visitors enjoyed live music, food trucks, face painting and ice skating at the alcohol-free event.

Families of all ages, young couples and adults came to the plaza, some stopping to take photos in front of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and a giant snow globe in front of the ice rink.

“We thought we’d come up here and see what Charlotte has to offer,” said Sherry Browning, who came decked out in Mardi Gras beads. “It’s just starting out here but I think when the music starts and the food trucks get going with some more people, it’s going to be fun.”

Several food trucks lined up on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard along with tents from local radio stations, leading to the main stage, which featured music throughout the event.

The event, formerly known as First Night Charlotte, was held at Romare Bearden Park last year. This is its first year at WBT’s ice rink, which has been open since November.

The plaza, already buzzing during the afternoon with hundreds of families and skaters, was open from 7 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. for the celebration.

“We’ve gotten a good response from a lot of people so far,” said Marissa Anthony, who works for WBT. “We’re expecting a very big crowd.”

Browning’s 9-year-old granddaughter, Miracle Faulkenbury, was the first to get her face painted, with wintry blue swirls and snowflakes.

“I did not know what I was getting. I just said do something pretty,” she said. “And she made me look like an ice person!”

Visitors dressed warmly and drank hot chocolate in the chilly weather, which hovered in the mid to low 30s with clear skies.

The ice rink looked crowded, but according to one worker, it didn’t compare to the first half-hour of Christmas Day, when more than 600 visitors came to skate.

Fireworks and the raising of the familiar Charlotte crown were planned to welcome the new year.

“The crown will be behind the stage and we’ll start raising it so it reaches the peak at midnight,” Anthony said Wednesday afternoon.

Workers spent the afternoon before the celebration setting up for the event.

Most of the work was done after 4:30 p.m., when Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Brevard Street were closed. Organizers organizers had 2 1/2 hours to build the main stage on the street and get vendors into place.

Alongside event workers, police prepared for the festivities across the city and at CLT New Year’s Eve.

The event was declared extraordinary by the city, giving police and other officials the authority to restrict what people could bring into the space.

Several police officers stood at roadblocks and monitored the event throughout the night.

The biggest challenge during this New Year’s week, which included the Belk Bowl on Tuesday night, will likely be traffic, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Maj. Jeff Estes said at a news conference Tuesday.

Estes said police would be looking out for alcohol offenders and other violators. He encouraged people to celebrate responsibly. Steve Lyttle and Joe Marusak contributed.

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