Downtown banking on three-day EVE event
New Year. New downtown festival. Call her EVE. Hope they come.
It's a bit of a roll of the dice, but downtown Salt Lake City seems ready for something of its own after 16 years of the First Night celebrations, say promoters of a three-day New Year's event.
The Downtown Alliance festival actually kicked off Monday evening with the opening of an eBay-sponsored charity benefit but it swings into full gear today and ends with fireworks as the clock strikes midnight on Thursday.
The festival replaces First Night, an event that was started in Boston and eventually staged nationwide, with one that its sponsors hope will grow to produce a seasonal sports atmosphere like the Winter Olympics of 2002.
Across 14 venues, from the Gallivan Center to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, EVE will feature live music, film screenings, dance parties, ski and snowboard competitions and laser shows. Activities begin each day at 3 p.m.
"EVE is absolutely home grown," Jason Mathis, executive director of the Downtown Alliance, said Monday. "We've come up with it ourselves, an event that is totally unique to Utah."
Downtown, whose businesses are plagued by the deepest recession since the Great Depression and key parts of which are under construction with the building of the City Creek Center outdoor mall, needed a new "brand," said Mathis.
Back is Jeffrey Berke Productions, the event and theatrical company that produced First Night when it first was tried in Salt Lake City and which also put together events for the 2002 Games.
John Speros, owner of the Lamb's Grill Cafe, a venerable downtown restaurant that has seen many New Year's Eves, said he wants the new event to succeed. But he wonders whether it can sustain itself over three days given that attendance at First Night declined considerably over its years of operation.
"It's little befuddling that they would expect over a three-day period they would bring those people down," said Speros. "They have had a hard time getting people down for just one day."
Mike Brown, marketing director for Red Rock Brewing pub and restaurant, echoed Speros.
"We're optimistic, as we hope everyone would be," said Brown. "Whether the 29th and 30th turn out to be a good option is still up in the air."
Mathis acknowledged the new event was somewhat of a gamble.
"It's safe to say my neck and Jeffrey's neck are out on this," he said. "If it's not successful, we'll definitely know about it."
But Berke said a review of First Night showed its appeal was limited to certain groups. With EVE, spread over three days and featuring events for various ages, sponsors are hoping to attract a greater range of participants.
"There are people who will rarely if ever make a choice to leave their home on New Year's Eve with their family or they always leave town and go somewhere," he said. "And with a one-day event that took place only in the evening on Dec. 31 we eliminated a lot of people from the opportunity to participate in a citywide festival."
Mathis described the first EVE as a modest effort that could be expanded if it proves successful. The sponsors would like to create a winter festival and recapture some of the spirit of the Olympic Games, he said.
"I think we have this collective memory of what the Olympics were like, walking around downtown with thousands of other people who had smiles on their faces and were happy to be outside, even though it was cold," said Mathis. "I think very few other communities will have that collective memory of being in a winter festival that's exciting and dynamic."
He sees future festivals as more integrated with Utah's winter sports.
What » Athletics, music and arts festival replacing First Night
When » Today through Thursday
Where » Downtown Salt Lake City
Cost » Adult wristbands $15 (for all three days); children 10 and under free. Purchase at Fresh Markets (formerly Albertsons), Beans and Brews Coffee Houses, The Gateway concierge, EVE venues or online.
More information » http://www.eveslc.com
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