New location, old tradition for Atlanta’s Peach Drop

8:39 p.m Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017 Living
Branden Camp
People try to keep warm while waiting for the live entertainment to start at Woodruff Park during the Peach Drop 2017, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Atlanta. BRANDEN CAMP / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Atlanta prepared late Sunday to ring in 2018 just as it did the previous 28 years, counting down to midnight for the descent of a giant peach. But Peach Drop 2018 came with one significant difference: a new location for the city’s largest New Year’s Eve party.

On the cold final night of 2017, thousands gathered in downtown’s Woodruff Park to watch the 800-pound peach slowly drop from the historic Flatiron Building. The 120-year-old Flatiron, standing 11 stories tall, is Atlanta’s oldest skyscraper.

Officials moved the festivities from Underground Atlanta – not quite 1,200 feet to the south – after the city sold that shopping and entertainment venue to a developer last spring. South Carolina-based WRS Real Estate Investments paid $34.6 million for Underground, with plans for a $300 million mixed-use development.

Moving the Peach Drop from Underground to Woodruff, the mayor’s office said, was part of “a continued effort to revitalize downtown.”

The New Year’s Eve activities got underway at 5:30 p.m. with a DJ performing on a stage erected in the intersection of Peachtree Street and Auburn Avenue. Crowds were slow to materialize, though, in part because of the cold temperatures. At 6:40 p.m., the giant Coca-Cola sign at Five Points, just down Peachtree, registered the temperature at 31 degrees – down from 33 just an hour earlier.

“It is very cold,” said 18-year-old Cheyenne Mauldin, who attended her first Peach Drop with her sister, Shawnee, 26. Cheyenne, who wore fuzzy white earmuffs, added, “This will be the coldest Peach Drop on record.”

But the sisters said they wanted to see the event’s new location. “It’s an Atlanta tradition,” Cheyenne said.

Nearby, Reginald McGee sat on a concrete wall, in a spot slightly sheltered from the cold wind. McGee brought his wife and their children to Atlanta from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, just for the Peach Drop. He attended the event at Underground Atlanta a few years ago and wanted to see the new location.

“I think it’ll be nice,” McGee said. “There’s more space.”

Police said they expected 25,000 people inside the six-acre park, with another 25,000 on the periphery. Tens of thousands of others converged on downtown Sunday: for the Atlanta Falcons’ final regular-season game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and for music events at Phillips Arena, the Georgia World Congress Center and the Fox Theatre.

Security was tight for all the events, especially at Woodruff Park.

Mindful of the threats of terrorism or other violence, officials blocked numerous intersections with garbage trucks and other barricades. What appeared to be hundreds of police officers patrolled the area on foot, including SWAT officers carrying semiautomatic rifles. People entering the park had to pass through one of four checkpoints, where security officers scanned them with metal detectors – twice.

At midnight, the old tradition continued at its new location: The giant peach dropped and a new year was welcomed in by thousands in Atlanta.

PHOTO GALLERY:  Click here to see photos from the Peach Drop festivities.