First Night canceled

Annapolis plans a smaller New Year's Eve arts celebration

October 21, 2007|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,sun reporter

First Night Annapolis, the city's New Year's celebration, has been canceled this year to allow its organizers to dig themselves out of debt.

But don't toss out your "Happy New Year" party hats and horns yet.

The city is putting on its own arts celebration - Annapolis Alive! New Year's Eve 2008 - to coincide with the celebration of its 300th anniversary.

Though smaller in scope than First Night, the event is expected to include a parade along Main Street, a battle of the bands, street performers and a fireworks display, said Karen Engelke, the city's special events coordinator.

"We can't let New Year's Eve 2007 go by without a celebration, because it's the anniversary of our charter," Engelke said Friday at a planning meeting for the event. "We're not trying to replicate First Night. Expectations are free, fun and fireworks."

Ray Weaver, a spokesman for Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, said First Night is "taking a hiatus for a year" and will "hopefully come back in its full glory."

The festival began in 1990, promoting itself as a theater without walls on a nonstop stage in a "March toward Midnight." It has been popular but has been dogged in recent years by complaints of long lines to enter the myriad indoor events.

As sales of First Night admission buttons sagged, the city waived $13,500 in fees for the organizers to use its facilities on New Year's Eve 2005. That gift was not repeated last year.

Jim Triebwasser, who was elected president of the group in January, said he began asking the board tough questions about its finances. He said the group would create a $300,000 budget for the event when it only had $200,000 in contributions, and that led to its downfall. He said he couldn't discuss how much is owed.

After the group decided it could not afford to pay its staff, Triebwasser said, the remaining board members quit abruptly and he was unable to get enough sponsors to hold the event this year.

"It was just a horror show," Triebwasser said. "I said, `Why did you guys run the ship like this for the last three years?' And I didn't really get a response. I spent the whole summer talking to other business people. It was already too late."

This year's celebration will be free. It will take place along three blocks of Main Street from Church Circle to Market Square with a battle of the bands at the Annapolis Recreation Center. Tickets to that event would cost $10.

Fireworks launched from a barge in Spa Creek will welcome in the new year at midnight.

Weaver said the mayor "wants it to be out in the street. ... She's not crazy about waiting in lines and going inside."

Parking will be at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, as in the past, with shuttles to and from downtown.

The City Council is expected to approve a resolution sometime next month that would allow for the event, which would run from 6 p.m. Dec. 31 to 1 a.m. Jan. 1. The council is also expected to transfer a $7,500 grant earmarked for First Night to the city to pay for the festivities.

Stephanie Duncan Troxell of the Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau, who is helping to organize the event, said organizers are hoping to entice tourists to the city, which will provide a "very important ecomonic impact."

Triebwasser said he is hopeful that First Night will come back.

"If anybody would like to resurrect it or bring it back, we would like to really make it happen," Triebwasser said. "Fresh blood fresh ideas. ... But bring it back in a different way. ... After doing it the same way after 18 years, you have to change. You just make it smaller, tighter and have a good time."

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