First Night Charlotte: Big party, new location, and free

slyttle@charlotteobserver.com earriero@charlotteobserver.comDecember 30, 2013 

  • DWI checkpoints planned

    Whether you’re in uptown Charlotte or elsewhere across the region, police warn you not to drink and drive on New Year’s Eve.

    “Motorists should expect to see DWI checkpoints, along with additional officers in cars, on motorcycles, bicycles and on foot,” said CMPD spokesman Rob Tufano.

    Sgt. Jesse Wood encouraged residents to make plans ahead of time for transportation on New Year’s Eve if they plan on drinking.

    “If you make those arrangements now, then you won’t have to worry about it at the end of the night when it’s too late or once you encounter one of our officers,” he said.

    Other law enforcement agencies across the region plan similar stepped-up activities Tuesday night and early Wednesday.

Uptown Charlotte’s annual New Year’s Eve party has a new format, a new location and a new price: Free.

“That’s right – no wristbands,” says Moira Quinn of Charlotte Center City Partners, which oversees First Night Charlotte. “Admission is free.”

First Night is the centerpiece event on a New Year’s Eve that is expected to bring tens of thousands of people into Center City.

In addition to First Night, thousands will be in uptown to see the nationally popular, locally based Avett Brothers who are in concert at Time Warner Cable Arena. More will come into the city to attend numerous parties hosted by uptown’s restaurants and clubs.

The city of Charlotte has declared much of uptown on New Year’s Eve – including First Night and the arena – to be an “extraordinary event.” That means people are prohibited from bringing items such as backpacks and items that could be used as weapons into uptown. The extraordinary event zone includes Time Warner Cable Arena, the transportation center, Romare Bearden Park, and most of uptown’s restaurants and clubs.

First Night Charlotte, with entertainment from 1 p.m. Tuesday until 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, will move this year to the new Romare Bearden Park. The park is across from the new BB&T Ballpark, along Church Street, between Third and Fourth streets.

“You’ll see the same type of talent, but it will all be in the park,” Quinn said.

In the past, visitors to First Night Charlotte were required to buy wristbands, then go to different uptown venues to watch comedians, singers, dancers, circus performers and other entertainers.

This year, everything will be centered in Bearden Park.

“We have some really good sponsors, like WBTV and McDonald’s, and they’ve enabled us to do away with the wristbands,” Quinn said.

First Night Kids begins at 1 p.m. and includes a variety of children’s activities, capped at 5:50 p.m. with the ringing in of the new year.

The evening activities begin at 7 with the Countdown to Midnight commencing at 10. The band Sol Fusion will perform from 10 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., with the official celebration of the arrival of 2014 at midnight.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Major Jeff Estes said the city’s curfew will be enforced for unaccompanied minors ages 15 and under.

“If you’re 15 to 13, 11 o’clock, time’s up,” he said. “If you’re less than 13, 10 o’clock, time’s up. We’ll be watching very closely for that and making sure children are home where they’re supposed to be.”

Estes also encouraged residents to speak up if they see anything suspicious.

“If a person sees something, we want them to say something, and by saying something, call 911,” Estes said. “That’s the quickest way to reach officers in the field.”

Estes also said residents can talk directly to nearby officers if they see trouble brewing on New Year’s Eve.

Quinn said organizers want people to spend a full evening in uptown. She said party-goers can, for example, have dinner and then walk to the park and enjoy the First Night party. Or Avett Brother concert-goers can walk to the park to greet the new year.

“There is tons of parking around the area, so it’s convenient,” Quinn said, noting that the Duke Energy Center parking deck near the park has 2,400 spaces.

Charlotte Area Transit System plans to run additional light rail trains throughout the night, and service will continue until 1:30 a.m. A number of major bus routes also will operate until that time.

(Story updated at 6:45 p.m. Dec. 31, 2014, to correct sponsor name.)

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle

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