By Chris Cox
Published Oct. 22, 2015
Steve Benjamin remembers what Main Street used to be like on New Year’s Eve. It’s not a fond memory for the Columbia mayor.
“If you think about just six or seven years ago,” he said, “people would go to Charlotte, Atlanta, Charleston or anywhere else on New Year’s Eve. The hotel rooms laid bare.”
|Five-time Grammy winning recording artist Lauryn Hill will headline Columbia’s New Year’s Eve celebration. (Photo/Provided)|
“It helps reinforce the brand,” said Matt Kennell, executive director of the City Center Partnership. “It’s exciting to me to have an event of this caliber on Main Street, and I think it lets the citizens of Columbia and beyond know that downtown has arrived.
“This is everybody’s living room. This is where everybody comes together and celebrates this area.”
Last year’s event brought in 28,000 guests from 28 states and six countries, and 39% of attendees were from outside of Richland County.
Hotel and restaurant revenue was estimated at a combined $1 million. And more than 700 riders took the Comet public transportation system compared with 100 riders on a typical weekend night.
“The hoteliers and retailers have been incredibly excited and even more excited to watch it grow every single year,” Benjamin said. “When we first started this event we planned for maybe 5,000 people to show up downtown … We wound up with 20,000 people coming to see George Clinton.”
“Now getting a hotel room is tough,” he said. “Getting reservations in our restaurants is (hard).”
This year, the event plans to support the #SCStrong fundraising drive, with proceeds going to Central Carolina Community Foundation’s S.C. Flood Relief Fund. The free celebration, situated in front of the Statehouse, will also include S.C. bands Dead 27s, ColorBlind and Susto.
Approximately 70% of the event’s funding is provided by private sponsors and corporate citizens, including BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina. The remaining 30% is funded by hospitality tax via the city of Columbia and Richland County.
“It’s been very positive for the hotels, obviously,” Kennell said. “New Year’s Eve in Columbia would normally be a very slow night, but it allows people to come and enjoy the event and stay downtown. I’ve done it myself for several years. But I think this year even more than ever it’s good for the restaurants and bars.”
Reach Chris Cox at 803-726-7545 or @chrisbcox on Twitter.