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Bidding adieu to 2011; 100,000 crowd venues to welcome new year

A night of frolic for the very young and their parents.

A night of puttin' on the ritz for the glamorous and beautiful.

A night for the hearty to sneer at winter in the balmy great outdoors of downtown Buffalo.

That's how as many as 100,000 people at downtown venues said goodbye to the old year and rang in the new year.

Elegance surged over the top at the Statler City Ice Ball as developer and restaurateur Mark D. Croce -- bedecked in a black tuxedo -- greeted many of the 4,000 guests who had forked over as much as $175 a ticket to be part of a three-floor New Year's Eve extravaganza Saturday at the former Statler Towers, which only months ago was shuttered and inches away from the doom of a wrecking ball.

"It's really gorgeous. It's glamorous. There's really so much to look at," said Town of Tonawanda resident Alba Ferri, who arrived in a stunning fur coat along with her husband. "I love it."

As guests heaped praise on Croce, he beamed brightly and his face gave his festive pink button-down vest a run for its money. When told he might just well be the P.T. Barnum of downtown Buffalo on this night that held so much promise, he smiled even more grandly and confessed that earlier in the day a friend had texted him declaring that he was "the Barnum of Buffalo."

Even the help looked splendid, all 250 of them, from the coat checkers to the cocktail waitresses at "Rendezvous the Niteclub on the lower level, where Croce bodaciously proclaimed its lavish setting better than anything the night scene in Los Angeles or Las Vegas had to offer.

Among the Statler City guests was Mayor Byron W. Brown, who took several victory laps through the ornately refurbished rooms -- The Palm Court, The Terrace Room and Golden Ballroom -- posing for pictures and happily telling the story of how he had pushed hard to wean the historic 88-year-old building off life support.

"The price of demolition for the building would have been more than $15 million," Brown said. "It's good not to be staring into a hole in the ground."

But the glee of New Year's Eve stretched well beyond Croce's newly inaugurated Statler City.

A few hundred feet away inside the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center on Franklin Street, thousands of children and their parents soaked up the joy of an indoor carnival.

Twirling and whirling rides, a tame merry-go-round, laser tag, huge inflatable slides and bounce houses -- no less than six of them -- were among the many attractions that had youngsters pulling their moms and dads from one end of the cavernous main exhibit hall to the other.

"It's been crazy. We were supposed to open at 5 p.m., but we opened at 4:25 because people were already lined up outside waiting," said First Night Buffalo volunteer Kristin Van Slyke.

For 15-year-old Saleh Abedzeid, it was a special New Year's Eve, his first in America after arriving eight months ago from Iraq.

"I've heard so much about the celebrations in America. I'm really excited. I want to do everything. I want to know everything," the Town of Tonawanda resident said with the help of an Arabic translator.

But the excitement in the adolescent's eyes required no translation. It was universal. He was a teenager out for a night set aside for fun.

In children much younger, the joy also was evident.

"He's so brave," said 5-year-old Cameron Stadelmaier of Williamsville as he looked up at the man on stilts.

"Flash in the Pan," who stood 9-feet tall, had all kinds of corny lines for the kids who looked up at him: "You should see my big brother!" Or, "I'm too big for my britches."

Seven-year-old Katrina Tamol and her 45-year-old mother Maria went hand-in-hand, both two happy kids, onto one of the wildest rides at the carnival -- the Octopus.

"The last time I went on the Octopus I didn't even get sick," Katrina confided.

The Marilla mother added, "I love this kind of stuff."

Four-year-old Nylen Schultz of Buffalo waited with patience to crawl inside one of the bounce houses, but his mother, Nina, said it was the "Nickel City Reptiles and Exotics" show that he was eager to see.

When asked what he was looking forward to seeing most, he shouted, "Snakes!"

"Clumsy the Entertainer" was anything but as he rode about on a unicycle juggling bowling pins.

From 4-year-old Alyssa Kreinheder of Cheektowaga, Clumsy requested a formal introduction to the lad beside her. "Is he your husband?" Clumsy asked.

"My brother," Alyssa corrected, repeatedly.

But somehow Clumsy just couldn't figure that one out, much to the delight of other children and parents.

"It's fun, it's safe and full of activities," said Theresa Jackson, a Lancaster parent who had come to First Night Buffalo with a group of other families.

And even when little eyes grew weary and started yearning for bed, the spirit of New Year's Eve certainly did not grow fatigued. Thousands of hearty partygoers crowded into Roosevelt Plaza in front of the Electric Tower to take in live entertainment at the 24th annual Buffalo Ball Drop and Fireworks.

Old Man Winter, for those accustomed to his harshness, was a no-show, with temperatures at close to 40 degrees early in the evening and not expected to go below 36 degrees when 2011 melted into 2012.

email: lmichel@buffnews.com