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Time to revive Atlanta’s New Year’s Eve tradition at the Coke sign

Maria Saporta
The Phoenix at Woodruff Park is the perfect metaphor to bring back a New Year's Eve celebration in front of the Coca-Cola sign (Photo by Maria Saporta)

By Maria Saporta

World-class cities have world-class New Year’s Eve celebrations – free events in public places where people can celebrate – out with the old and in with the new.

Sadly, Atlanta was absent this year as we saw the calendar turn from 2019 to 2020. The annual tradition of the Peach Drop has been held at Underground Atlanta for the past three decades with the exception of 2017 when it was located at Woodruff Park.

The “Peach” is on display in the lobby of the Fulton County administration building (Photo by Maria Saporta)

But the Peach Drop was put on hiatus by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in November when she announced that the city, which had taken over organizing the event after the ownership of Underground Atlanta changed hands, would not be holding a Peach Drop to welcome 2020.

The tradition continued – featuring live music, the drop of the Peach followed mandatory display of fireworks – until this year.

But there are hopeful signs that an outdoor Atlanta New Year’s Eve celebration will return on Dec. 31, 2020.

Fulton County Commission Chair Robb Pitts has pledged to be part of an effort to carry on the tradition. Mayor Bottoms, when she announced there would be no Peach Drop to welcome 2020, said the city would “reevaluate, reexamine the location and how we plan it out.”

(The developer WRS will be redeveloping Underground Atlanta, so that venue is not a viable option for a New Year’s Eve celebration for the foreseeable future.

But we need look no further than one block north of Underground – to the site of the iconic Coca-Cola sign on top of what is now Walgreen’s Pharmacy right next to Woodruff Park.

The Coca-Cola sing is currently being refurbished. The Underground tower that held the “Peach Drop” is in the background (Photo by Maria Saporta)

The Coca-Cola Co. currently is refurbishing the colorful and visually-stimulating sign at Five Points – a gigantic sign the company describes as the Coca-Cola spectacular. It happens to be across the street from where Coca-Cola was invented – Jacob’s Pharmacy at Five Points.

When Coca-Cola initially announced that it would be refurbishing the sign, it had thought the work would be completed by the end of 2019. When I heard there would be no Peach Drop to welcome 2020, I considered proposing moving the event as part of an unveiling of the refurbished sign. But company officials then told me the work to upgrade the sign would not be completed in time for such a celebration.

So, we missed an opportunity to ring in 2020.

But now we have the better part of a year to plan for a dramatic spectacular New Year’s Eve tradition that would herald back to a former Atlanta tradition.

When I was growing up, the Coca-Cola sign was at the crest of Peachtree nestled in between what is now Margaret Mitchell Square and the Georgia-Pacific building (formerly the site of the Loew’s Grand Theatre).

Every New Year’s Eve, my parents, my sister and I – accompanied by friends and thousands of other Atlantans – would descend at the base of the captivating neon spectacular to watch the digital clock flicker to midnight.

The Phoenix at Woodruff Park is the perfect metaphor to bring back a New Year’s Eve celebration in front of the Coca-Cola sign (Photo by Maria Saporta)

It was Atlanta’s own version of Times Square. When it was announced the sign was going to be dismantled (to ensure that Georgia-Pacific would move its headquarters to Atlanta), my sister and I put on a behind-the-scenes “Save the Sign” campaign by reviving the New Year’s Eve celebration in 1979-1980.

So many people showed up for the New Year’s Eve celebration that Peachtree was completely closed off to cars from Baker Street to several blocks south of the sign.

We were not able to save the original sign. And for 20 years, there was not a neon Coca-sign in the company’s hometown.

Then in 2002, then-Coca-Cola CEO Doug Daft heard about what the sign had meant to Atlanta, and he ordered that a replica be made and placed downtown.

Now, nearly 20 years later, we have an alignment of stars to recreate a true Atlanta tradition that combines our hometown drink with our official state fruit.

If truth be told, the actual Peach used in the Peach Drop does not command the respect of New York’s crystal ball. We have an opportunity to reimagine a spectacular peach to go with our Coca-Cola spectacular. We could have a three-dimensional peach that could sparkle and twirl with the countdown to the new year.

The Coca-Cola sign is perfectly positioned in the heart of downtown Atlanta’s skyline (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Pitts has said reinstituting the Peach Drop event should be a public-private partnership – and I would like to suggest several of those potential partners.

It would be great if the city of Atlanta, Fulton County and the state of Georgia agreed jointly become the public sponsors of the celebration.

Coca-Cola, Georgia-Pacific, Georgia Power, WRS, Newport and CIM could be the private champions behind a New Year’s Eve party.

And of course, Central Atlanta Progress, Georgia State University and the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association would be instrumental partners in recreating a successful new tradition in the heart of Atlanta.

Thousands upon thousands of people could congregate at Woodruff Park and spread out to Peachtree and Marietta streets – using the Coca-Cola sign as a natural focal point.

We have a year to come up with plans to reimagine a New Year’s Eve celebration with possibly a new-and-improved Peach to drop.

We can do this. We can create a world-class New Year’s Eve celebration for Atlanta.

A rendering of the refreshed Coca-Cola sign at Five Points (Special: The Coca-Cola Co.)

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Maria Saporta
Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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10 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Donna Fleishman January 7, 2020 11:15 am

    The NY countdown on television also brings in activities from LA, Miami and Las Vegas, popular entertainment towns. With the new peach drop/Coca-Cola sign event, we would most certainly be included on this prestigious national coverage list. We are blessed to have Tyler Perry among our citizens. C’mon, Tyler, help your city out with a grand vision for New Year’s Eve!Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Greg Hodges January 7, 2020 11:53 am

    RIGHT ON !Report

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    jon carlisle January 7, 2020 12:42 pm

    There’s no ‘saving’ anything as long as this remains downtown, Coke sign notwithstanding – move it to the Battery. From personal experience (as in never again), Peach Drop is a sad AND scary joke. Literally hundreds of intoxicated people, along with a substantial swarm of Underground thugs, pickpockets and homeless, pushing and shoving. And unlike NY, nowhere near enough police at work, and those on duty looking the other way short of gunshots. Many falling down drunk with THEIR CHILDREN in tow. And getting out? No simple task via the worst economic mobility of any city in America. An ugly scene the mayor was smart to pull the plug on.Report

    Reply
    1. Maria Saporta
      Maria Saporta January 9, 2020 4:18 pm

      I have to disagree. Downtown is accessible by MARTA – which is the safest way to travel when people have been celebrating. Also, downtown is our signature that tells the story of Atlanta. The Battery is not even in the city. We need to promote an event that is accessible to all of Atlanta, and having it be in the cent4er of the city is the most inclusive place to hold a world-class event. By the way, I’ve gone to countless Peach Drop celebrations, and I have never felt that it was a sad or scary experience.Report

      Reply
    2. Avatar
      M January 11, 2020 1:30 am

      I started to explain that the Battery already has its own NYE celebration but it’s not even in the city but I reminded myself that anyone who paints all of Downtown Atlanta as a wasteland full of “thugs” is probably a racist idiot who isn’t worth my time.Report

      Reply
  4. Avatar
    Chuck January 7, 2020 4:53 pm

    Move it to Centennial Olympic Park and use the Ferris Wheel for launching fireworks similar to the London Eye in addition to the rooftops of the surrounding buildings.Report

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    Liz January 7, 2020 5:01 pm

    What was the name of the NY Eve celebration that took place around 10th & Peachtree for a very few years. I went in Y2K, I think.
    It was not a drunken brawl, it felt safe, friendly and fun.

    May have begun in Boston…Report

    Reply
    1. Maria Saporta
      Maria Saporta January 9, 2020 4:23 pm

      It’s was Atlanta’s version of “First Night” and it was put on by the Midtown Alliance. But it got discontinued because it became such a big event with numerous cultural events up and down Peachtree with fireworks at midnight. I agree – it was a wonderful event!Report

      Reply
  6. Avatar
    Heidi Couch January 7, 2020 10:26 pm

    Fantastic idea!Report

    Reply
  7. Avatar
    Steve January 13, 2020 10:23 am

    That intersection seems a little tight for 100,000+ people. Centennial Olympic Park would make for a safer and more enjoyable venue (room to spread out). That location would also enable City officials to make it a all-day event with music another performing arts in the afternoon leading up to NY celebration at midnight. While we are tossing out ideas, why don’t we see if we can come up with something that goes up instead of down to celebrate the arrival of a new year. Rise up! A Phoenix perhaps.Report

    Reply

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