HOLMBERG: Carytown Ball Rise became so successful it had to fail?

Posted at 1:24 AM, Dec 20, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-20 09:47:51-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- This would’ve been the eighth annual Carytown New Year’s Eve ball rise, an event that started organically and became one of  the largest gatherings in Richmond every year.

And that, it appears, is the problem.

It became so successful, it had to fail.

“The ball got dropped. It literally got dropped,’ said Demitrios Tsiptsis, owner of the New York Deli and one of the masterminds of the event.

Todd Schall-Vess, the manager of the historic Byrd Theater and the man who created and raised Richmond’s ball, says the cancellation makes him sick.

“I can’t believe that we formed this homegrown thing,” he said, “this thing that is about Richmond and we put it together here. It isn’t like some mega corporation came in and said, ‘Hey, we want to package a New Year’s Eve ball event.’ It was all about what was going on here in the community and now - pfft! - we're not going to do it."

In a nutshell, the problem is 20,000 or so souls flooding Carytown for what started as kind of a renegade event put on by Schall-Vess, Tsiptsis, RVA Magazine and others.

Todd’s first ball was smaller, rising atop the roof of the Byrd Theater.

That first year, no one knew what to expect. There was minimal police presence for what turned out to be a runaway success. Barricades separating the beer garden from the rest of the event were trampled.

I was in the thick of that first big, unexpectedly large crush. Two thoughts; this is really cool, and, this is pretty wild.

It grew from there. With live music and a bigger, more elaborate ball. Some corporate sponsors, involvement by the Carytown Merchants Association.

The insurance and permit bills also shot up, along with the amounts of trash, broken windows, reported lewd acts and assorted other risky behavior. It was just too unseemly for the tony shopping area and the neighboring museum district.

The Carytown Merchants Association bailed on the event, which went on last year in true renegade fashion.

This year, I’m told, the merchants association warned the Byrd’s board that if something bad happened at the event, they could be liable.

So the event lost its rooftop launching pad for the ball.

“If that’s the problem,  that there’s too many people,” Tsiptsis said, “tweak it. Figure out a way to make it work.”

“It’s like, ‘Well, there are going to be problems, so let’s not do it,’” Schall-Vess said. “Well, yeah. That’s a good excuse not to do anything.

They point to other big events, like the Watermelon Festival and Shamrock the Block that have had real problems, but are allowed to continue.

As one longtime neighborhood resident noted, “I know there are security issues, but there are a lot of more security issues in Manhattan (for the Times Square New Year’s Eve event) than we do. There ought not be nothing that we can’t do in Richmond that they do in New York.”

Tsiptsis said he’s willing for the ball to rise from his much lower establishment, but Schall –Vess said he’s done with the politics of Carytown, where he’s a resident.

But if somebody out there “has the perfect place, I want to hear from them,” he said, “Because I absolutely want my ball to rise on New Year’s somewhere this year.”

So how about it?

Are we just going to watch someone else’s New Year’s ball on television?