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Downtown Salt Lake City plans 3-day New Year's celebration

S.L. celebration will include food, music, dance, film and more

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 9 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Jeffrey Berke, left, and Jason Mathis announce Salt Lake's three-day New Year's festival.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

First Night, the annual New Year's Eve celebration in downtown Salt Lake City, celebrated its last night last year.

In its place, community leaders announced Tuesday, is a three-day celebration Dec. 29-31 called "EVE" and featuring more activities, more music and a beer garden.

In addition to activities at Gallivan Plaza, where a $15 wristband for people ages 10 and above allows entrance into a youth dance party, Pierpont Avenue will be closed for music. Pierpont will have a closed-off area where beer will be sold.

The $15 ticket also gets arts lovers into performances by the Utah Opera Ensemble, Repertory Dance Theatre, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company and the Wasatch Theatre Company at the Rose Wagner and the Off Broadway Theatre, as well as Charlie Chaplin short films at the Broadway Cinema. There will be other activities — on Temple Square and at The Gateway — associated with EVE that will not require the ticket.

A complete list of events, as well as restaurants and hotels that are offering EVE participants a discount, is at www.eveslc.com.

"Last year, First Night was successful," said Jason Mathis, executive director of the Salt Lake City Downtown Alliance. "We had 30,000 to 40,000 people downtown celebrating. And after, we asked, 'Can we leverage the success and be more inclusive?' "

Many people avoid downtown on New Year's Eve, Mathis said, because they have family traditions that take them elsewhere. Others feel nervous driving during a night with a relatively high rate of drunken-driving incidents. Mathis said that having a three-day celebration will accommodate those who normally didn't get to First Night.

Charged with promoting downtown businesses, the Downtown Alliance hopes participants in EVE activities will shop or buy a cup of coffee. With First Night, retailers didn't benefit from the extra traffic downtown, since many closed at 6 p.m. for the holiday.

"It was helping hotels," Mathis said. "It was helping bars. But it wasn't helping retail."

Hiring DJs, bands, performing artists and other entertainers won't be cheap. If tickets cost only $15 for three days, then how will the Downtown Alliance, a nonprofit arm of the Salt Lake Chamber, break even?

Jeffrey Berke, the artistic director and producer of EVE, would not disclose how much it will cost to put on the event. However, he said, sponsors — which include American Express, USANA Health Sciences, eBay, Comcast, Intermountain Healthcare, the LDS Church Foundation and Coca-Cola — will help with costs.

"We hope we're being smart about the economics," Berke said. "We hope it will cost the same amount as we earn."

Berke said he didn't have an estimate on the number of people expected to attend.

The New Year's Eve celebrations of the past 16 years had been dry, unless people opted to leave official First Night events and pop into a bar or club for a drink. Around midnight, people typically filed out of bars and clubs to watch First Night's fireworks.

But at EVE, a kind of beer garden will be sponsored by Squatters Pub and Brewery. It will be an enclosed area in which people ages 21 and older can purchase the Salt Lake-based microbrewery's beers. Soda pop will also be served, along with food catered by Cuisine Unlimited.

"They'll be able to get a beer at Pierpont," said Amy Coady, who is in charge of marketing at Squatters. Pierpont Avenue will be closed for EVE and will have DJ music and a cover band competition, featuring musicians who dress up and perform as legends such as Kiss or Nirvana.

Alcohol can be a contentious issue in Utah, where the majority of the residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which counsels its members against drinking.

"We've been really careful to say the Downtown Alliance isn't encouraging drinking or making money off of drinking," Mathis said.

As is tradition in Salt Lake City, events will wrap up with fireworks at the Gallivan Center.

Ultimately, the Downtown Alliance envisions daily events for the entire week between Christmas and New Year's. But since economic times remain tough and this will be the event's first year, "we don't want to bite off more than we can chew," Mathis said.

e-mail: lhancock@desnews.com

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