First Night organizers seek input and assistance • St Pete Catalyst

To the first night or not to the first night? this is the question.

Organizers of Saint Petersburg’s longest-running New Year’s Eve celebration are seeking input from the public on how best to revive and continue the event, which came to a halt this year after just shy of three decades on.

Between 15,000 and 20,000 people travel downtown annually for a first-night stay, which includes a large swath of the northeast area overlooking the bay, including the sites of Strobe Park, Williams Park and the many storefronts, museums, and churches in between.

Hal Friedman and Leslie Curran are the longtime organizers of First Night. Photo: Bill de Young.

“We have 25 performers, artists, musicians, dancers, technicians, and vendors,” said Hal Friedman, chair of the board of directors for the nonprofit, which is part of a national First Night franchise.

St. Pete’s event uses “Art in Unexpected Places” as its slogan.

“There’s always something to do,” Friedman continued. “Sometimes people complain that they can’t see everything they want to see. And that was the plan: give people enough to do for four or five hours on New Year’s Eve, throw some fireworks early so people can take the kids home, throw More fireworks at midnight.

All of the artists and performers are local, and they get paid for their work. First Night is hiring a paid Event Manager; Everyone else is a volunteer.

According to Friedman, “The First Night” cost about $170,000 to produce. The City of St. Petersburg contributes $40,000, but takes back more than half of the amount earmarked for police supply and sanitation services.

The one-of-a-kind light-up “buttons,” created by a local artist, are sold in advance for admission to the event. That brings in another $40,000 or so.

The remainder comes from sponsors and private donors.

Attendance dropped last first night, on December 31st, 2021. The year before, due to covid, the event was virtual.

These two shots to the head, combined with a decrease in the number of volunteers (many of whom were reluctant to work in large crowds), a significant increase in the cost of fireworks and a dearth of sponsorship money led to the cancellation of December 31st. , 2022 first night.

The city of St. Petersburg stepped in with its own bash on December 31, produced by a local company called Big City Events, at The Pier. A city spokesperson said that “New York on the Sidewalk” was scheduled after the August announcement that “Night One” was cancelled.

“I wandered to the pier on New Year’s Eve,” Friedman said. “I passed a couple of our councilors, who said the main activity now was standing on the line, waiting for a drink. There was a DJ, a disco ball, a champagne bar, some buskers and lots of people.

“In the Bayshore area, the parks were empty.”

Another thing caught his attention.

“The personality was different. There were a lot of people in their 30s or 40s, not a lot of families. There were some kids, but now kids will be up until midnight because that was the only fireworks. No kids activities at all.” “.

Drummer first night.

“The whole idea of ​​First Night was a ‘celebration of the arts,’” said former city councilwoman Leslie Curran, who co-founded St. Pete’s First Night event in 1993. And since we’re an artsy town, it’s a shame you only see the stereotypical champagne/fireworks. your New Year’s Eve rather than incorporating the arts. It also gave local artists an opportunity to showcase their work.”

Both Friedman and Curran wonder if St. Petersburg has grown too much for First Night.

“St. Pete feels like a small town, like a village,” Friedman said. “And the first night was kind of the culmination of that.”

Curran added, “Just because you feel like we’ve become a big city — and that’s what we are — doesn’t mean you just wipe out all those things that gave us this way. There’s plenty of room for both.”

The events of the first night are, contractually, alcohol-free. However, all of the area’s restaurants are open – and doing big business on New Year’s Eve. Including those on the sidewalk.

“People are down there for the fireworks,” Friedman said. “Give them something to do while they’re waiting.”

Lots of first night shows by Nate Carpenter and Daniela Soledad.

Whatever form a possible fix the first night would take, the organizers believe the “kids’ night” part—games and activities for children under 10, plus an early fireworks display—should remain the same.

Everything else is, well, on the table.

“We really want to know: Do people want this back?” “I think it would be nice if we could make them free, but have the buttons if people just wanted to buy them as souvenirs,” Curran said, offering a suggestion.

She explained that there are dozens of people on the volunteer committee. “And it’s not easy going out and fundraising. Especially when you have your own business to run, or whatever.”

Money, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a big part of the issue at hand. Although First Night had major sponsors in the past, including Tom James and Bill Edwards, they tended to pitch in for a year or two, or three, and then step aside.

Freeman said, “Either we need $200,000 from somebody, or we need $160,000 and the city to do the fireworks. Let them do something at The Pier as one of the events on the first night.”

“Maybe they could have a DJ there. Because the sidewalk is there—and it has to be used. And that’s cool.”

Share your thoughts on the future of First Night by emailing director Jamie McWade at jamie.mcwade@firstnightstpete.com.

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