Family festivity on tap for city’s 10th First Night

Thursday, December 30, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:25 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Some people will choose to ring in the New Year by uncorking a bottle of expensive champagne, but for those looking for an alcohol-free community celebration, Columbia’s First Night might be just the event.

First Night offers a variety of entertainment, including puppets and storytelling for children, dueling pianists, five teen bands and Klezmer music.

This New Year’s Eve marks the 10th anniversary of Columbia’s First Night celebration. First Night was founded in 1976 in Boston by artists who wanted to create a community alternative to traditional New Year’s Eve revelry. From there, First Night spread across the United States, to Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, and it became a nonprofit organization, First Night International, in 1993.

Karen Ramey, director of operations for Columbia’s First Night, predicts 8,000 mid-Missourians will gather for the festivities. Last year’s celebration drew only about 6,500, which Ramey attributes to people staying home to watch MU play in the Independence Bowl.

To deal with increased pedestrian traffic downtown, the Columbia Police Department will have extra officers in the area. Columbia Police Capt. Zim Schwartze said the goal is to ensure the safety of all. Schwartze encourages people to have extra patience when driving downtown on New Year’s Eve. First Night is an alcohol-free celebration, and police officers will enforce the open-container law.

Ramey said those who want to participate in First Night can purchase buttons that will give them access to the night’s events. The buttons cost $7 for those 7 and older and are available at the Activity and Recreation Center, Gerbes Supermarkets, Streetside Records and the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department.

“There’s a lot to do,” she said. “You should go through your program and chart your course.”

Programs are available with buttons purchased in advance.

First Night will feature 50 different performances and activities at 12 venues throughout the night. The celebration starts with the First Night 5K Walk or Run into 2005, which is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. at Flat Branch Park.

A fireworks show by Premier Pyrotechnics will serve as the grand finale at Courthouse Square. A pyroball will shoot off fireworks as it falls, counting down the last seconds of 2004.

This is the sixth year of First Night’s fireworks display . Debbie Sorrell, a lieutenant with the Columbia Fire Department, says the department has worked with the fireworks company to limit the size of the fireworks for safety reasons.

The department will have extra firefighters on the roof and the ground, and have designated a safety zone that complies with safety standards set by the National Fire Prevention Agency. Sorrell said they have had no trouble with the fireworks in the past.

“The fireworks this year are going to be the best ever,” Ramey said.

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