Welcoming ‘19By MARK ROGERS,
With crowds estimated at nearly 10,000, Columbia kicked off the New Year and its bicentennial Saturday night with a spectacular light and fireworks show.
“What a response,” Main Street Columbia Director Nik Ingram said, calling the celebration “the finale to Season 1 and the premier to Season 2.”
“We’re excited about what we were able to accomplish. We were all part of a team with dreams and visions, part of a team of experts. It was incredible to see the cooperation and see it come together. We built a strong bond as a community,” he said.
Ingram said the group is already planning future events and would release a schedule to allow interested people to participate. He said food vendors downtown sold out of items and restaurants throughout the city were crowded.
“These events attract business and foot traffic,” he said. “We were happy because it brought life to downtown and merchants were able to capitalize and turn it into money. When that happens, the merchants win and the city wins.”
The fireworks had originally been scheduled for New Year’s Eve, but rain pushed them back five days. However, the appeal was not decreased as people descended upon Main Street for the festivities.
The night even had a surprise visitor, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who made it official this week that he is running for governor. The Republican said he was impressed by the spirit shown in Columbia and said people across the state are talking about it.
“Tonight, Columbia celebrates its bicentennial thanks to the generosity and vision of leaders in this community,” he said. “The presentation begins with a narration by one of Mississippi’s favorite sons and one of my dear friends, the late Paul Ott. As we move beyond 200 years and into the future, I promise that I will do everything I can ensure that this state continues to be the greatest place in America to raise a family, to go to school and start a business.”
Police Chief Michael Kelly said operations Saturday night went smoothly and that organizers had studied the “hiccups” that may have been concerns this past weekend.
“We had plans to make the area of the Church on Main a place to meet or find lost children and we were able to do that,” he said. “We had one child get separated from parents or guardians, and we were able to put our plan into place and it worked to reunite them quickly. We also had one medical incident where a woman fainted, and we were able to get first responders to her quickly. It went incredibly smoothly, and we have a plan in place for the next time to alleviate some of the traffic problems.”
Mayor Justin McKenzie said he was impressed with the crowds and the entire season of activities.
“I think it was amazing to see so many people turn out and support an event in our community,” he said. “That’s what the angle of the events was all about – bringing our community together and building relationships and building that sense of community so we can grow. We want people to be here. This weekend was a prime example of a great reason to be in Columbia and be a part of it.”
McKenzie said the event was “the beginning of many celebrations” of the city’s bicentennial.
The crowds began appearing early, with the Columbia Gearheads Cruise-In drawing more than 90 classic cars. As the cars began to leave downtown, crowds began gathering for food, music, dancing and fireworks. Popular Hattiesburg radio DJ Don King, a Columbia native, was on stage playing music as hundreds danced at the corner of Main and Second streets.
McKenzie said people from across the region attended the events on Saturday, including a family from Rome, Ga., who were in town to see the lights and others from additional states.
“Some of the people who brought cars from down on the Coast said they would be coming back,” he said. “We look forward to that.”
Pictured Above: Confetti rains down on children Saturday night on Main Street following a fireworks show that put an exclamation point on Columbia’s holiday celebration and ushered in the city’s bicentennial year in 2019. | Photo by Charlie Smith