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Numbers up, problems down for First Night

Despite cold, organizers are declaring First Night celebrations a success

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Ticket sale numbers are still coming in from hotels, but organizers say that the 2004 First Night celebration was a success.

"We don’t have a final tally yet because the hotels have been so busy that they haven’t been able to get their numbers to us yet, but I’m going to go out on a limb and conservatively estimate that we were about 15 per cent over last year’s figures," said Bob Andrea of strategic alliances and events with the RMOW.

Last year there were more than 4,000 tickets sold for the alcohol-free New Year’s celebration.

Although they were expecting a larger turnout of up to 6,000, based on the number of guests in the resort, Andrea says the cold was probably a factor for some.

"Cold kept people home for sure. If people weren’t feeling the greatest or had little kids, I could see a lot of people staying at home. I’m pleasantly surprised how many families did come out and bundle up despite the cold and just had a great time. Not all of them stayed the whole night, but a few of them did," said Andrea.

One of the key successes for this year was the quality of entertainment on the mainstage. Andrea said the area was busy all night, starting with the performance of Danny Sveinson, an 11-year-old music prodigy dubbed the "Rock and Roll Kid."

"I haven’t seen the Village Square that busy that early at any of our First Night events, it was 8 o’clock and there were so many people out there watching," said Andrea.

"I was pleased with all of our performers. They had to play guitar and piano and sing and spin in that weather – we had a heater up there, but it was still cold. They impressed me and the crowd with the level of entertainment, and pulling it off in that outdoor venue made it so much better."

Other musical performers included Nanaimo’s Allison Crowe and local DJ Mat the Alien.

When it came time for the official countdown – there was a kid’s countdown at 9:15 p.m. – Andrea says Village Square was as busy as he’d seen it since the millennium celebrations, with thousands jammed into the area to ring in the New Year.

"It was a very special night, but that was the highlight for me," said Andrea. "After running around all night, I got to go up into a suite in the Blackcomb Lodge and throw beach balls out to the crowd during the fireworks display. It was really spectacular."

Andrea says the organizers will evaluate First Night again for next year, looking at what worked and what could be improved. They will also look to the public and local businesses for suggestions how to make the celebration better.

"We’re lucky, we inherited a great event from Maureen Douglas, who started all of this 17 years ago, and she set the stage for us, and we want to continue to build on this event," said Andrea.

With fewer arrests and almost no incidents this year, Andrea says they will be able to focus less on organizing security and more on the event in future years. "Security is important still, but we want to look at ways to add value to a guest’s experience coming here. The security is working, now it’s time to look at other aspects of the event."

According to the RCMP, there were 23 arrests for excessive intoxication, down from 39 the year before.

"We actually had a substantial number of people in the village and in the bars but we didn’t seem to have the problems this year," said Staff Sgt. Norm McPhail. "Everybody was well behaved, and we didn’t seem to have any big incidents at all, and our arrests were down in the 20 range from the 40 range we’ve had in previous years, good stuff to see.

"I think the cold had something to do with it, the presence of police officers had something to do with it, and we had some effective road checks as well – I understand the road checks were quite a bit more efficient this year, getting people through a lot faster."

There were 80 police officers on duty for First Night, as well as road checks to the north and south of the village. A few tickets were issued, but only three people received 24 hour driving suspensions for alcohol.

"We have to follow through and make sure we have the appropriate level of response, and we have to gauge that on the size of the crowd you have, but the attitude seems to be better than previous years," said McPhail.

"I think the message is out there that if you want to come to Whistler and drink and do things to excess, this isn’t the place to come. If you’re coming here to cause trouble, the (zero tolerance) message is out there."

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