The first major outdoor New Year’s Eve celebration in downtown Santa Rosa for the past decade and a half will bring in the new year Sunday night at the newly restored Old Courthouse Square.
Free to the public, “New Year’s Eve on the Square,” also will be the first New Year’s bash at the square since it was reunified in the spring, after being split for more than 50 years by Mendocino Avenue.
“We want to make this a sustainable, ongoing annual event for the long term, not just this year. We can celebrate together instead of sitting at home and watching TV,” said Sonu Chandi, president and CEO of Chandi Hospitality Group, which is hosting the inaugural event, in hopes that other sponsors will join the effort in future years.
“We were talking about how we could do something on the square, because we’ve got to use this space more often,” said Chandi, who also serves on the board of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber of Commerce.
“In light of everything that’s happened recently to our community, I think these events are so important,” said Janet Rogers, the chamber’s vice president of member services. “We got close to 5,000 people at our tree lighting the day after Thanksgiving, and I attribute some of that to the fires in October. People want to go to events where they can feel good and be part of the community.”
The New Year’s Eve event will run from 5 p.m. Sunday to 12:30 a.m. Monday. For children and families there will be a bounce house, interactive magic show, face painting, balloons and more in the afternoon and early evening.
At 8 p.m., the party continues with beer, wine, cocktails, food, a photo booth, live music and dancing, and peaks with a countdown to midnight and a balloon drop. Live entertainment will include performances by three popular local acts: country singer and songwriter McKenna Faith and the rock bands Kingsborough and the Pat Jordan Band. General admission is free. Limited VIP tickets are available for $125 and include a bar buffet dinner from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m., plus a dessert buffet from 10 to 11 p.m., both catered by Out to Lunch Fine Catering. A VIP table for 10 costs $1,500. For more information, go to newyearssantarosa.com.
From 1995 to 2002, annual First Night Santa Rosa celebrations — one of more than such 200 events nationwide patterned after First Night Boston, introduced in 1976 — drew as many as 15,000 people to downtown Santa Rosa to see performances by local artists of all kinds every New Year’s Eve. Ultimately, the free event could not sell enough voluntary support buttons to sustain itself.
Public events on the square create a sense of community and a safe space for family events, as well as stimulating the local economy, Chandi said. His group owns and operates three restaurants and bars on or near the square: Stout Brothers, Beer Baron and Bibi’s Burger Bar.
“Whenever there’s an event, we’re seeing that businesses do better because people are coming here, and it looks more lively and happy,” he said. “But it’s not just business. We want to cherish and celebrate our community. We want to feel proud and invite our friends.”
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.