Officials plan food, fun, fireworks for ‘Midnight on Front Street’

By HASKEL BURNS,

Approximately 4,000 people showed up last New Year’s Eve for the inaugural Midnight on Front Street celebration in downtown Hattiesburg, ringing in the new year with a “ball drop” of a replica of the iconic Hub Sign that once sat atop the Ross Building.

With a new dual fireworks show – and a couple of other additions – planned for this year’s event, officials are anticipating an even bigger crowd at the intersection of Main and Front streets. In anticipation of the celebration, Mayor Toby Barker and other officials gathered Thursday at Fire Station No. 1 for a Q&A on the event.

“Since we came into office a couple years ago, the whole vision for Hattiesburg is for us to no longer be content with being the best in Mississippi – we wanted to be a destination in the Gulf South,” Barker said. “That means having events that become traditions that everyone looks forward to, that people come from around Mississippi and from around the region to be a part of.”

The celebration begins at 7 p.m. December 31, when downtown roads will close in preparation for the event. At 9:30 p.m., vendors will open and DJ Kujho will begin his musical set.

Barker will make remarks at 11:50 p.m., with Breakfast at Midnight, the dual fireworks show, and the sign drop following at midnight.

Several downtown restaurants and shops, including Coney Island Café, will be open for the celebration.

“Having an event like this really is key,” said Andrea Saffle, executive director of the Hattiesburg Downtown Association. “We’re coming off the holiday season – this weekend’s going to be a really big weekend in downtown celebrating the holidays – so we’re kind of carrying that forward and giving people one more reason to come downtown.

“We want them to come in, visit or businesses and visit our restaurants, and we’re really excited about everyone who’s going to stay open and participate this year. We like to say that all roads lead to Front Street, and this event literally does.”

In addition, several local hotels – including Doubletree, Hilton Garden Inn, Holiday Inn and Hotel Indigo – have partnered with VisitHATTIESBURG to offer packages for travelers staying overnight in the Hub City. More information on that initiative can be found at www.hburgnye.com.

“Hattiesburg has quickly become known as a holiday destination,” said Marlo Dorsey, executive director of VisitHATTIESBURG. “We all love to fill the local shops and see all the great things that our community has to offer for unique shopping and dining.

“But in fact, last year, Expedia recognized Hattiesburg nationally as a Top 25 holiday destination. So that’s tremendous, and it’s just a testament to what our community has to offer.”

Hattiesburg resident Glenda Grubbs painted the official poster for this year’s event, titled “Happy New Year, Hub City.”

“This area is very important to both my husband and I – we met here in Hattiesburg,” Grubbs said. “We lived in Los Angeles for 25 years, and when we decided we didn’t want to live in that big city any longer, we chose Hattiesburg to come back to. We just love the town and the people of this area.”

The original Hub Sign – which celebrated Hattiesburg’s central location between Jackson, Meridian, Mobile, Gulfport, New Orleans and Natchez – was unveiled on Thanksgiving Day 1912. Manufactured and donated to the Commercial Club for the benefit of the city by the Henry L. Doherty Company, adorned the top of the Ross Building until World War II, when it was deconstructed and sold off for the war’s scrap metal drives.

The three-sided replica sign that is dropped to celebrate the New Year was constructed by John Aust and is made of stamped steel, featuring hundreds of LED lights. When the clock strikes midnight, the sign is suspended about 100 feet in the air.

The Hub Sign signifies so many things – where we fit economically, educationally, and transportation between so many other regional powerhouses,” Barker said. “But also (it signifies) going after big things and the legacy of where we came from, while also pointing to a big, bright future as we go into 2020.”