A bigger night

Planners hope to restore New Year's Eve festival's appeal

December 28, 2008|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to the Sun

Annapolis is preparing for a grander New Year's Eve celebration this year under new leadership from an Annapolis entrepreneur.

Brendan Curley, owner of a small event management company, made a successful bid to run the non-alcoholic street party this year. He has enlisted a cadre of businesses and organizations to volunteer and sponsor events, including two fireworks shows this year - one for children and senior citizens who turn in early, and one for midnight revelers.

Curley, who has lived in Annapolis for four years, said he had not gone to previous New Year's celebrations in Annapolis, but he recognized that someone needed to step forward and fill the vacuum left when First Night Annapolis ran into financial troubles and folded last year. He said he wanted to create something that would excite his two young children but also appeal to couples on a date night.

"We wanted to make sure it had some of that same pizazz of previous events," said Curley, owner of ABC Events Inc. of Annapolis.

New Year's Annapolis will include a rock-climbing wall, ice sculpting demonstrations, as well as performances by the Annapolis Opera, the Ballet Theatre of Annapolis and jazz and blues musician Rob Levit.

City officials are glad someone took the helm. Without Curley and other businesses chipping in, the event would have continued to be a shadow of its former self, Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said.

"I think that's one of the great things about this city," she said. "Fortunately, we have wonderful people with talents."

The First Night festival began in 1990 with a street-fair atmosphere and fireworks. The giant celebration of the arts, which included up to 50 sites throughout Annapolis cost upward of $300,000. In recent years, the event, however, was dogged by complaints of long lines to enter indoor events and sagging ticket sales. In the fall of 2007, the nonprofit First Night organization decided it could not afford to pay its staff, and the remaining board members quit. City officials were able to put on a small, scaled back event with a budget of $15,000, said Karen Engelke, special project coordinator for the city. The city council contributed $7,000, and the rest of the budget came from businesses, such as BankAnnapolis and TeleCommunication Systems Inc. of Annapolis.

Curley, whose full-time job is in software development, helped out with the event last year. His event management company submitted a successful bid in May to put on the event for the next five years. The city waived lease fees for public places, including the recreation center. If the event makes a profit, the money would go toward reimbursing the city for police and sanitation services, Engelke said. The event got another public boost from the Anne Arundel County Council, which allocated $2,000 from the Recreation and Parks budget for the event.

But the most significant contributors this year are local businesses.

ARINC, a communications and engineering company based in Annapolis, contributed $10,000, making it the biggest sponsor of New Year's Annapolis. The company, which is underwriting the midnight fireworks display, wanted to support the celebration because it is one of the largest employers in Annapolis.

"This was a wonderful opportunity to work with the community," said Linda Hartwig, senior director of corporate communications. "I'm very pleased that Brendan [Curley] decided to reinvent something for New Year's Eve."

Verizon Wireless is sponsoring the 7:30 p.m. fireworks show for children and those who can't stay up for the midnight fireworks. Verizon also paid for a mailer to be sent out to residents and made in-kind contributions.

Badges will be sold to help raise money for the event and for local charities. Because of ARINC Inc.'s sponsorship, $2 from every badge sold online will go to a charity of the buyer's choice. The public can choose a charity from the event's Web site.

Party-goers will have to show their badges to take the free shuttle from the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium parking lot, attend indoor performances and enter the City Dock area for the fireworks shows. As a further incentive to buy badges, Starbucks will be giving out free coffee, hot chocolate and lattes at City Dock to those who are wearing badges.

Because the event was free last year, city officials and volunteers had a hard time counting the crowd. Estimates ranged from 1,200 to 7,000 people.

Although only 700 badges had been sold as of Wednesday, Curley expects most sales will take place on New Year's Eve. As long as it doesn't rain or snow, he expects 5,000 to 7,000 people. Attendance at this event will give sponsors an idea of whether to participate next year.

"What will drive this [event] is people participating," he said. "The more people we get downtown, the more exposure sponsors have to the public."

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