Is First Night Dying Again?

Are we witnessing the steady decline of a Boston celebration?

First Night fireworks over Boston Common

First Night fireworks over Boston Common. Photo by Mass. Office of Tourism.

Boston First Night’s struggles have become something you can set your clock to.

Late Thursday, Universal Hub broke the news that the city’s New Year’s Eve celebration is struggling financially, again, and will have to cut back some of the festivities:

There was a meeting today and the following decisions were made. The financial picture of First Night is quite reduced, and some events are not going to take place. The Grand Procession is at Copley Square, not on Boylston Street. There are not going to be midnight fireworks. There will be 7:00 pm fireworks. The Fitness walk will be a Fitness Jamboree activity on Copley Square.

In 2013, things were so bad that First Night organizers canceled the event all together before Mayor Tom Menino stepped in and saved the celebration by having the city take it over. Outside funding from sponsors like the Highland Street Foundation, Bank of America, the Mugar Foundation and Boston 4 Productions helped insure the two most recent editions of First Night went off without any problems.

Earlier this year, Boston wanted to free itself from hosting duties and awarded responsibility for organizing First Night to Conventures, a private event planning company based in the Seaport, for one year. When Coventures won the bid to operate First Night in June they estimated they would need to raise “$300,000 to $500,000” in order to put on a proper show. In an interview with the Boston Globe, Conventures president Dusty Rhodes said she expects the company will break even when all is said and done. The budget for First Night has run as high $1.1 million as recently as 2011 but in recent years the event has struggled, failing to even come close to the event’s glory days when the budget was over $2 million

Mayor Marty Walsh told the Boston Herald he was “upset to hear” about the cancellation of fireworks and other events associated with the celebration. Walsh told the Herald he was especially annoyed he found out about the cancellation through a mass email.

“We’ll work through it and I’m comfortable we’ll have a great First Night here in the city,” said Walsh to the tabloid.

Conventures told the Herald the event will continue and that it is possible the midnight fireworks will return to the program.

Boston’s First Night celebration is the oldest in the country and has become a model for similar celebrations around the United States. The inaugural First Night celebration was held in 1976, the year of the country’s bicentennial.