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First Night Buffalo focuses on family

Bring out the party hats.

The spotlight on Buffalo’s New Year’s Eve excitement will shine indoors as First Night Buffalo’s celebration marks its 26th family-friendly extravaganza, promising a varied lineup of activities.

A far cry from what it used to be when it first began in 1988, the $100,000 event now held at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center offers carnival rides, comedians, acrobats, musical performances, stunts with fire and illusion, and even a family fitness challenge.

When First Night started, it drew about 15,000 people but was spread among 20 different venues, including Shea’s Performing Arts Center, the Ellicott Square, local churches and the YMCA.

Now it is centrally located in the convention center, which can accommodate only 5,000 people at the event. It is expected to sell out.

Preparations for the drug- and alcohol-free event were well underway Tuesday afternoon.

“This is definitely the nontraditional New Year’s Eve celebration,” said Carrie Meyer, executive director of the Independent Health Foundation, which sponsors the event. “It definitely provides a safe and healthy atmosphere for families to be together to ring in the new year, versus the typical adult party.”

The event runs from 5 to 10 p.m. More than anything, it provides a place where families can come together in a safe and fun atmosphere where festivities promise something for all ages.

New to the lineup is the Bubble Black Light Dance Party & Face Paint, where children can have their faces painted with glow paint and then go wild by dancing the night away in a sea of bubbles, black lights and music.

Another new highlight is the family fitness challenge, in which participants can train like the Buffalo Bills at NFL Play 60 fitness stations using equipment from the team’s fieldhouse in a high-energy room – all while learning to stay healthy and strong.

Meyer said it all ties into an additional theme of the evening to make healthy New Year’s resolutions. “It’s a great time because this is a time when people are thinking of something new,” she said, noting there will be health stations, screening areas and opportunities for people to learn more about their individual wellness numbers such as cholesterol levels, body fat percentages and blood pressure, and set goals.

But there will be plenty of time to sandwich in the fun stuff, too.

The big focus is on families with young children.

Years ago, Meyer said, the event “was trying to be something for everyone, and then we realized we need to be more focused on families with younger children.”

There’s plenty to satisfy that appetite – from the upper-level carnival, complete with amusement rides and bounce houses, an adrenalin rush maze, a horse carousel, a Viking dragon, the strawberry whirly bird, swings and even little cars to drive, as well as a tot zone. There’s also a section for older children. Teens also should find something of interest, as well.

Remaining advance tickets, available at Wegmans are $10 per person, which covers all rides, attractions and activities. At the door, tickets will be $12. Children 2 and under are free.

“We typically do sell out,” Meyer said. Chalk it up to the cost of basically taking a family out to a movie, she added.

“We have a lot of great community organizations that donate in-kind services. They definitely step up to the plate,” Meyer said.

Doors open at 4:30 p.m., and free parking is available at the Fernbach Ramp on Franklin Street and at Main Place Mall.

A rundown of other evening activities include Pyromancy; the Red Trouser Show of acrobats; Jeff Musial, known as “The Animal Guy;” the Dance Spectrum show; a family feud-style game show by the Quizmaster, Dennis George; and an interactive backyard circus, complete with a family puppet parade.

And if you’re lucky, you might just spot Bob the Builder, SpideMan and Clifford the Big Red Dog.

A listing of events is also found at http://firstnightbuffalo.org/schedule.

email: krobinson@buffnews.com

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