SARATOGA SPRINGS — There will be live fireworks at First Night Saratoga after all.
Organizers and city leaders announced Monday that in response to a public outcry over cancellation of this year’s fireworks, they’ve been restored — but at a new, more family friendly time.
The pyrotechnics in Congress Park that have been a midnight staple of ringing in the New Year will instead take place at 5:45 p.m., still in the park. First Night events then get underway about 6 p.m., and run through midnight.
“More families and more of the community will be able to enjoy the early fireworks,” said Susanne Simpson, chairwoman of Saratoga Arts, the umbrella arts organization that has organized First Night Saratoga for the last 10 years.
Organizers had announced earlier this month that there would be no fireworks at First Night this year for the first time in the more than 20 years the city has held a First Night celebration; a “digital midnight” would replace it, with fireworks displayed on a large screen at the City Center, and simulcast on the Saratoga Arts website.
The announcement, which Saratoga Arts said was made for both financial and for public safety reasons, was widely criticized. Individuals and local businesses stepped up to pay the roughly $10,000 cost, said Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce.
“The community spoke out. The community really wants fireworks,” Shimkus said.
To address any concerns about hot embers causing harm, the location within Congress Park has been moved to a more open area away from buildings, Simpson said.
Joel Reed, executive director of Saratoga Arts, praised chamber and city officials for their quick action: They raised money, came up with a plan, applied for the necessary city permit, and had the permit approved within 24 hours of when it was submitted.
“Everyone who goes to First Night can start off with this, and you don’t have to keep the kids out late to see the fireworks,” Reed said.
The “digital midnight” display and simulcast will still take place in the main ballroom at the City Center, as the Joey Thomas Big Band finish their final show.
First Night is expected to bring 15,000 to 20,000 people to the city to see more than 60 performing acts spread across 30 alcohol-free venues. Reed said sales of First Night buttons, which get bearers into any venue for no additional charge, have been “strong.” The $20 buttons are available at the Saratoga Arts office on Broadway, Stewart’s shops in Saratoga County, at Price Chopper/Market 32, and at branches of Adirondack Trust Co.
“The last two New Year’s Eves have been very cold,” Reed said. “The forecast this year sounds great.”
While New Year’s Eve is still nearly a week away, the National Weather Service is predicting a 30 percent to 40 percent chance of rain or show, with temperatures in the high 20s to mid-30s.
Simpson, who is also general manager of the Pavilion Grand Hotel downtown, said First Night is a major event for the city’s hotels and restaurants, and the hotels have been among those who have stepped up to pay for the fireworks.
To ease the downtown parking crush, free Capital District Transportation Authority shuttle bus service will be available from Wilton Mall (near Dick’s Sporting Goods) and the Skidmore College campus.
Shimkus said the chamber is setting up a special fund for additional donations so the fireworks can have permanent funding, rather than risk another cancellation in the future.