After 22 years of hosting downtown Akron's signature New Year's Eve celebration, Downtown Akron Partnership (DAP) is declaring victory in igniting the community's interest in annual downtown event programming and is announcing the retirement of First Night Akron.
First Night Akron was created as way to bring people into downtown and inspire dreams about the future of Akron. First Night Akron was once one of the few opportunities to showcase and inspire others to re-imagine the potential for a new downtown Akron.
"We are honored to have been a champion of this beloved event and look forward to DAP's next chapter in improving the downtown neighborhood," said Suzie Graham, DAP president and CEO. "DAP's ongoing work will be dedicated to helping make more dreams for downtown a reality."
"As the non-profit with a mission to build and promote a vibrant and valuable downtown, we take the productive use of our resources seriously. That means continually evaluating the value and need for our programs."
When First Night Akron started on Dec. 31, 1996, it was the only real game in town other than fireworks on the 4th of July. Canal Park Stadium had just been built and there was a need among stakeholders and businesses to renew confidence in the downtown district.
"First Night was a catalytic event for downtown Akron, and we're so grateful to Downtown Akron Partnership for carrying the torch on this event all these years," said Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan. "As we continue to transform the infrastructure and diversify the programming downtown, we trust DAP to best align their resources to boost and support downtown development, for the benefit of all Akron residents."
Throughout First Night's history, downtown events have blossomed with the emergence of Locks 3 and 4, the Akron Marathon, downtown festivals, Downtown at Dusk, Summit for Kids, winter activities and more.
More recent developments including the Rubber City Jazz & Blues Festival, Signal Tree Festival and Elevate Akron Yoga Festival validate the potential for grassroots organizations to step in with unique offerings for all community members.
Equally exciting are the number of downtown venues that have strengthened year-round programming. Affordable and diverse offerings can be found at the Akron Art Museum, Akron Civic Theatre, Akron RubberDucks, Akron-Summit County Public Library, Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and Akron Children's Museum. The combination of these venues and events garners approximately 3.4 million annual visitors to the district.
"Active storefronts filled with independent businesses all year long gives our downtown neighborhood character and value that an annual event can't match," said Graham.
Among the many outcomes of First Night Akron is the team of volunteers willing to give time to support the event.
"The volunteers, in conjunction with participating venues, city of Akron and METRO RTA, have been the heart and soul of the event," said Graham. "Without them, there would have never been a First Night Akron, and to them we are forever grateful."
Inspired by those volunteers and others who participate in volunteer-driven projects, DAP will provide a formal platform - The Urban Corps - for volunteer engagement by providing opportunities throughout the year to individuals who want to contribute to the strengthening of downtown.
"People are passionate about improving downtown. They have shown a willingness to roll up their sleeves and physically be part of making it happen. We want to ensure there is a way to keep them involved and recognize their efforts with our appreciation," said Graham.
"This is not goodbye, it's see you next week. We have a lot of work to do."