December 30, 2009


Spirits dim on First Night cancellation

Residents, businesses say they will miss annual celebration, hope for its return next year

Staff Reporter

Many local residents are disappointed that the annual First Night celebration will not take place on New Year’s Eve, but some say they understand the city’s decision not to pay for it.
Main Street bar owners say they are not sure how the cancellation of First Night ball-dropping ceremony will affect their sales.
George Seibel, owner of The Dark Horse Tavern and A Pizza and More, said he cannot predict how many people will come to the Dark Horse because he bought the bar in 2002, and the celebration had been held annually since the start of 2000.
But he has owned A Pizza and More since 1988 and said he had many customers before First Night was created.
“It’s always been busy on Main Street on that night for as long as I can remember,” Seibel said.
In response to the city canceling the event, the Dark Horse will drop a ball that its employees are creating from a rope system on its staircase between the first and second floors.
Central City Bar and Grill co-owner Mike Spollen said he does not know if the cancellation of First Night will hurt business by attracting fewer people to downtown or bring more people into bars as an alternative to the outdoor celebration.
Tiffany Lamborn, manager of The Tavern on south Main Street, said she hopes the cancellation of First Night will help The Tavern by spreading out patrons to a wider area. She said people tend to go to the bars located closest to the festivities, which have mostly been held on the other side of the Tompkins Street intersection.
The celebration also causes people to leave the bars for a while, and not having it could create a more constant flow of business throughout the night, she said.
Four teenagers eating at Subway on Main Street Tuesday say they want to see the ball drop, even if there are no fireworks or a disc jockey.
Alex Schmidt, 18, of Rochester, said he returned to Cortland for a week and a half to visit friends and see the ball drop, only to learn after he arrived that the celebration will not happen.
“We don’t need the fireworks. All we want to see is the ball,” said Bethany Hall, 14, of Cortland.
Sheila Cohen of Cortland said she would like to see the Cortland Cultural Council, which she serves on, help to organize the event and expand it in the future by having musical performances and indoor activities.
“I think you need to have a source of funding and you need to do grant writing for it,” Cohen said Tuesday inside the Blue Frog Coffeehouse on Main Street.
Brian White, 33, of Cortland said he usually looks forward to the event, but understands the Common Council’s decision.
“I understand it’s a tight time, and I’m sure the money can be used for better things, so we skip it for a year,” White said.
Last year’s celebration took place only after a Homer-based fireworks company, Little Big Shots, offered to donate the fireworks display. The lighted ball marking the coming of the new year was lowered from the Cortland Standard building for the third year in a row. Previous celebrations had been held at the Squires Building across Tompkins Street until it was destroyed by fire. The owner of the similar building recently constructed on the site, John Scanlon, said he would have hosted the event, if it had been held this year.
In the past, bands or disc jockeys have played music in a portable bandstand owned by the Cortland Youth Bureau.
Mayor Tom Gallagher said he is disappointed that First Night will not take place.
“You can’t put a dollar figure on the satisfaction of people being able to do a celebration like that,” he said. “Just because things are bad doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the things that add a little spark to the community.”
Gallagher said the city Common Council decided against paying extra overtime to city employees. The event cost $2,500 in police overtime last year.
Adam Megivern, executive director of the Cortland Downtown Partnership, said he is also disappointed, but acknowledges that the city financial situation made it difficult to hold the celebration. He added that the city can look at the cost of police overtime on New Year’s Eve when First Night is not held and compare that to the cost of police overtime when it is held to assess the true cost of the event.
Megivern said he is interested in supporting First Night next year through the Downtown Partnership if there is enough community support. Not having it for a year will allow organizers to gauge the level of community interest in the event, he said.
“The money’s going to have to come from somewhere. If the city doesn’t feel it’s an important enough event, then we’ll just have to find that level of sponsorship to cover the event,” he said.
Megivern said he is thinking of creative ways to generate revenue through the event that he will share with other event organizers in 2010.
The city, which owns the ball, could rent it to a local business that would be the official sponsor of the New Year’s celebration and use it to promote the business, he said.
The event sponsors could also sell something that would commemorate the event, he said. The Downtown Partnership sells commemorative wine glasses to people who participate in Taste of Downtown, a food tasting event held the past few summers.


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