BRADENTON -- It's a Bradenton tradition to greet the new year by counting down the seconds as the big ball drops on Old Main Street at midnight.
This year, a new tradition starts.
Locals and visitors alike will still revel through the night on Old Main Street, but it won't be the same old ball.
"We have a new ball," said Rick Willats, president of the Old Main Street Merchants Association. "We've been using the same one for the past six or seven years, but it's broken."
There was some intrigue involving the ball after last year's celebration. It was stolen and then recovered. Somewhere along the line it was broken.
The new ball is a big improvement, Willats said.
"We actually had to store (the old one) on a truck because it was so big," he said. "It took three people to pick it up. We have a new one that's designed to be taken apart so it can be stored somewhere. Sometimes you have to be hit over the head for six or seven years until you learn."
The falling ball will be the centerpiece, but the New Year's Eve edition of Main Street Live also features live blues music from the Lauren Mitchell Band, food and craft vendors, children's activities and lots of plain-old New Year's Eve partying. All bars and restaurants along Old Main Street will be open, too.
Although it's always difficult to figure the size of crowds for free events, officials estimate about 1,000 people turned out to Old Main Street last New Year's Eve. There's reason to expect at least that many this time.
"Every year we get a little bigger," Willats said.
Old Main Street will be closed from Manatee Avenue to Third Avenue from about 4 p.m. until after midnight. The Lauren Mitchell Band is scheduled to start playing at 8 p.m.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.