Mayor Menino announces First Night plans after festival had appeared to be in jeopardy

Calling it “a new day for First Night,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino today unveiled the highlights of Boston’s cherished New Year’s Eve festival, once thought to be in jeopardy when the longtime organizer folded in June.

At a press conference that gave the outgoing mayor a chance to provide one more sweeping gesture for his city, Menino promised “bigger and better” ringing in of 2014, and said he never considered cancelling the event.

“They may not be going to have it, but I’m going to have it,” Menino recalled thinking when First Night Boston, the non-profit group that has organized the festival for decades, suddenly closed in June. “Boston was the first one to do First Night, it’s the best city for First Night.”

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The city responded by cobbling together sponsors, including the Highland Street Foundation, and several corporate partners, to keep the festival alive. The Boston Globe is a media sponsor of First Night.

With its firework displays, Mardi-Gras-style procession, and artistic performances, the holiday event, first celebrated in 1976, has annually drawn more than a million people to the city. It has been a tradition that showcases Boston’s winter charm and cultural treasures—and generates more than $40 million in revenue in the city, according to the mayor’s office.

At this year’s festival, the Bank of America Grand Procession, Menino said, will be “a bigger, brighter display than ever before.” It will include marching bands, art cars, and will feature new participation from the The Gay Pride Parade. Rocker Patti Smith will highlight a musical program that will include The Blind Boys of Alabama and Anaïs Mitchell.

The schedule of events, which will run from 1 p.m. on New Year’s Eve until after midnight, features two fireworks shows, one early in the night and the other at the stroke of midnight.

The Family Festival in the Hynes Convention Center will also figure into the new emphasis on “brighter,” with three rooms full of interactive sound and light exhibits.

The Liberty Mutual Copley Stage, the epicenter of the celebration, will be lit up in part by a projected animation and video installation on the facade of the Boston Public Library from dusk until the countdown to midnight.

Admission to outdoor events will be free, while indoor events will require purchase of a First Night button, which this year will cost $10—down from $18 last year.

“This year everything’s going up, right?,” Menino said, to chuckles from the assembled sponsors and city officials. “The buttons are the only thing going down.”

The buttons will be available at CVS pharmacies, some Bank of America locations, and online at mayorsholiday.com.

Though the price of the buttons is down, the event’s budget at $800,000 is about the same as last year’s, said Chris Cook, the city’s director of arts, tourism and special events.

Cook said Menino had formed a group to work out strategies for the continuation of First Night festivities beyond this year’s.

But the mayor had a coy response when he was asked if this year’s revival of First Night was a one-time save.

“That’s up to the next mayor,” he said.