No Delaware fireworks options on New Year’s Eve

By Jon Offredo and Yann Ranaivo — The News Journal

Delawareans might have a tougher time finding fireworks in the First State on New Year’s Eve, after several long-standing First Night events in Wilmington and Dover have fallen by the wayside in recent years.

Officials in the state’s two largest cities say a lack of funding has prevented them from having the traditional New Year’s Eve celebrations, and residents are finding that they might need to go elsewhere for festivities.

Since 2011, Dover hasn’t had a First Night celebration to ring in the New Year after a dip in corporate donations left the annual event unfunded. It was the first time in 15 years that Dover didn’t have a celebration.

“Its demise came along at a time when a lot of funds were really stretched tight,” said Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen.

In Wilmington, Alexandra Coppadge, Mayor Dennis P. Williams’ spokeswoman, said the city is not organizing any events.

The city used to have a New Year’s Eve celebration that involved fireworks and activities at various venues around Wilmington, but that event was canceled because of costs, she said.

Officials with the Riverfront Development Corporation said it had no fireworks planned. Downtown Visions, which helps oversee businesses in downtown Wilmington, had heard of no fireworks events either.

The lack of official events in the state’s two most-populous cities has created a void for families. One place in the state that is having a celebration is Dewey Beach, which is having a ball drop along New Orleans Street at 11:45 p.m.

Kim Willson, who lives in Magnolia with her two young kids, said they hadn’t done much in years past for New Year’s, but when they did go to First Night, it was always packed. “It’s always a bummer when you don’t get the family fun and feel, especially around the holidays, with the fireworks,” she said. “Families love it, kids love it and neighbors love it, and it’s a bummer that the money is not there to continue a cool tradition.” Willson, a lobbyist, is also involved with Gals that Give, a local nonprofit that organizes events to raise money for local charities. She said bringing back the event would be great for the community.

Dover’s First Night – which cost about $70,000 – has yet to be resurrected, but Christiansen said he planned to take a look at what it might take to revive it.

The hope is to bring it back little by little if there is enough interest, he said.

One of the problems the event faced, aside from a drop in donations, was that it had run out of volunteers. An event like that, which includes fireworks, music and food, also takes substantial sponsorship, he said.

“Our economy is on the upswing, now may be the time to take a look at if it’s feasible dollars-and-cents-wise to generate another First Night,” Christiansen said.

“A lot of people miss it and the tradition,” he added.

Some in Wilmington would gladly welcome back First Night.

Like in Dover, Wilmington’s New Year’s Eve celebration was stopped because of a drop in the donations needed to support the event, said former Wilmington Mayor Jim Baker.

Wilmington’s event ended just after the late 2000s recession occurred, Baker said. The city, he said, didn’t have the money needed to close the gap after donations dropped.

“It wasn’t like everybody decided it wasn’t good,” he said. “It was a pullback.”

In addition to the fireworks to top off the evening, people would visit various venues from around Rodney Square to along Market Street where they would be able to eat and enjoy entertainment such as live music.

“I loved going to First Night. All you had to do was walk from one venue to the other,” Baker said. “It was grand having it.”

If Wilmingtonians want to see a great deal of entertainment for New Year’s Eve, they should consider going to Philadelphia, Baker said. But traveling to Wilmington’s neighbor will come with some caveats, most notably traffic, he said.

“If you’ve ever tried it, it’s a pain,” he said, adding that those interested in going to Philadelphia may want to be there hours before the fireworks. “Getting out is as bad as getting in.”

Baker said Atlantic City is a less-crowded alternative to Philadelphia.

More locally, Baker said, Wilmingtonians looking for fun and entertainment can look up which venues are hosting a New Year’s Eve party.

“It would be nice if we could get First Night started again,” he said.

Johanna Schloss, who lives just north of Wilmington off U.S. 202, said she and her family plan to go to dinner and “head back home for a quiet evening.” She has spent past New Year’s Eves watching live bands play or going to Philadelphia, but her family just welcomed a new baby, she said.

“When I was younger, we were all about ‘let’s do something big with big crowds,’ ” she said, “but as we’ve gotten a little older, it’s more fun to be with people you really love, and spend your time that way because that’s who you want to celebrate it with anyway.”

Schloss said she would like to see an annual event like First Night return to Wilmington. She said the ongoing development of the Riverfront has turned that area of Wilmington into a prime spot for entertainment.

Contact Jon Offredo at (302) 678-4271 or Contact Yann Ranaivo at (302) 324-2837 or