First Night, city at odds; Nonprofit says it can't afford terms of new holiday lease; Law changed in February; New Year's Eve party will move to county sites, Naval Academy


When revelers usher in the year 2000 in the state capital this New Year's Eve, locations such as City Hall and the dock area will not be part of First Night Annapolis' alcohol-free celebrations for the first time in a decade.

At last night's City Council meeting, Mayor Dean L. Johnson announced that First Night officials had withdrawn their application to lease city-owned facilities for the annual event, saying they could not afford the terms of the agreement. City officials had been trying to work out a lease with First Night Annapolis in accordance with a law enacted in February under which event organizers are charged for city services and facilities.

Janice Gary, First Night Annapolis president, said she had been negotiating with city officials since May but withdrew the lease application yesterday because she could not put off planning the event any longer. The acts First Night has held on city premises for the past nine years will be moved to facilities donated by the Naval Academy and county government.

"We had extended our deadlines waiting for city approval" of the lease, Gary said. "We finally realized we just couldn't do that any more. It's just unfortunate that we don't have the support of the city when we have the support of the county and the state and virtually every other agency in Annapolis."

First Night Annapolis, a nonprofit group, organizes a nonalcoholic, family-oriented New Year's Eve celebration in the state capital, featuring hundreds of performers such as dance troupes and musicians at dozens of sites in the city.

The event's organizers traditionally have paid up to $5,000 for police overtime during the event and $1,000 for trash removal, Gary said. Kathleen Sulick, city finance director, said last year's First Night cost Annapolis $15,233 in overtime pay for police officers, firefighters and employees from the public works and transportation departments.

Sulick said the city billed First Night $4,184 for overtime pay for police officers hired from other departments and about $1,000 for cleaning costs and overtime pay for public works employees.

The proposed lease charged First Night the lesser of $35,000 or 100 percent of police overtime pay, 50 percent of all other city costs incurred during the event and $1,500 for use of city premises.

Gary argued that her nonprofit organization should not foot the bill for all New Year's Eve celebrations downtown.

"The costs of all millennium activities are being attributed to us, when there are certainly going to be other activities going on in downtown Annapolis," she said. "People certainly are going to come to celebrate anywhere where there are restaurants or clubs, and we are but one of the acts going on that night. We shouldn't be burdened with the full charges."

Some city aldermen expressed disappointment that the lease could not be worked out.

"The biggest New Year's Eve celebration in a century and the city doesn't want to be a sponsor of it? It's ridiculous," said Ward 8 Democratic Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, who voted against the February bill to charge event organizers for city services. "When we have people screaming about noise and drunken revelry downtown, for the city to put a barrier to something that is supposed to be an alternative to heavy drinking on New Year's Eve, it's ironic."

Johnson said after last night's meeting that he hopes to discuss the issue with First Night officials to determine whether they can work something out.

"To me, it's like so many of the other events in town," he said. "If we cooperate, they can happen."

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