Not the last First Night in Boston

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June 21, 2013, 7:45 pm
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(NECN: Peter Howe, Boston) - Battered by a collapse in corporate and foundation support, First Night Boston Inc., the non-profit behind the 37-year-old iconic New Year's Eve event that has spawned dozens of imitators across the country, will close its doors and lay off its staff June 30.

But Mayor Thomas M. Menino said Friday, you can count on there still being First Night, the event -- just led by different people and maybe with a different mix of events.

"I just want to say, we'll have a good time on New Year's Eve," Menino said in an interview with reporters in Allston before christening a new housing development.

"I'm putting a team together next week to start the planning process, how we make that happen," Menino said. "What you have to do is rescue it this year, put a better foundation in for it for the future, so I think a non-profit should be running the First Night operation."

"I'm very confident," the mayor added. "I've gotten a lot of calls recently, the last 24 hours, people wanting to step up and help us from the hotel industry, the cultural community. A lot of folks say, 'We want to help you, mayor,' and make sure that First Night's a fabulous night in the city."

It's hardly like First Night has grown unpopular. "I love all the traffic and seeing the people and getting to watch what they're doing,'' said Caitlin Minnich of Dorchester, a parishioner at Old South Church who helps with selling hot chocolate to First Night revelers as a church fundraiser for mission projects like building homes in New Orleans.

Ron Merow, who said he is homeless and spends his days at the corner of Dartmouth and Boylston Streets, has been observing First Nights for decades and said, "It seems like people are coming earlier and staying later and more people in attendance than there used to be."

The problem is that big sponsorship dollars for First Night have plummeted by 70 percent since 2003, with corporate sponsorships falling from $474,000 to $156,000 and foundation sponsorships plunging from $364,000 to $50,000.

And while it is undoubtedly a beloved tradition for hundreds of thousands of people in the region, you do hear some grumbles and complaints: The format has grown a little stale and could use some revitalizing; the price of a button to get intot events -- $18 for this past year's -- is too high; and some restaurant owners and retailers on Boylston Street say closing the street for a critical hour may not be good for business.

"Been there, done that" is how Back Bay retiree Diane Jacobs explains her no longer attending First Night after years of participating. She's among those who think some fresh imagination may be just what First Night needs.

"I think the mayor and the powers that be will figure something out so it will still be a joyful, safe celebration in Boston -- but maybe not with the parade and all the venues that we're used to," Jacobs said.

The event is credited with pumping some $25 million a year into the city's economy.

"We with confidence that First Night will still go on," said Scott Grigelevich, marketing director at The Lenox Hotel, right on the parade route at Boylston and Exeter Streets. "We have 100 percent confidence in the mayor's office."

Grigelevich said he's confident the tradition can be renewed and extended. "Change is good, so however it evolves, I think, will be a good thing," Grigelevich said. "Boston wants to see that happen on New Year's Eve. It's been a tradition for a long time. It's important to all the businesses in the Back Bay, all the people in the city."

With videographer Nik Saragosa

Tags: Boston, Peter Howe, Mayor Tom Menino, First Night Boston, New Years Eve, First Night Boston Inc
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