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First Night in line for city support

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Efforts to revive the First Night celebration in Evanston got a boost Monday night when the City Council Rules Committee voted in favor of a request for $10,000 in city support for the event.

The New Year's Eve event in Evanston started in 1992. Emily Guthrie, the former 3rd Ward alderman who served on the original group's board, says the celebration gradually grew from a budget of $25,000 the first year to $150,000 in its final year of operation in 2006.

By the end, the program offered more than 100 acts in more than 20 venues around downtown.

But after peaking at an attendance of more than 15,000 in 2000, the organization suffered financial problems related to bad weather and dropping attendance, and eventually decided to shut down operations.

Guthrie says the revived group hopes to start small this year with about five venues centered around James Park and a total budget of perhaps $75,000 — with about 60 percent of that going to cover fees for performers and stage and electrical equipment.

She says Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and former mayors Lorraine Morton, Jay Lytle and Joan Barr have agreed to be honorary co-chairs.

The group is has planned a number of fundraising events, and hopes to pick up some extra revenue selling remaining copies on the Evanstonopoly game originally produced as a First Night fundraiser years ago. About half the budget is expected to be raised by selling admission badges to event attendees.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said money for the grant from the city is available from an allocation in the city budget to support celebrations associated with the city's 150th anniversary this year. The city previously provided a $10,000 grant from that pool to support the Fourth of July parade.

The request for city funds for First Night still needs approval at a regular City Council meeting.

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