Local News

Raleigh readies for First Night soirée

Posted December 30, 2011 5:36 a.m. EST
Updated December 31, 2011 8:46 a.m. EST

— Preparations were underway Friday for downtown Raleigh's French-themed First Night celebration.

Festival organizers worked to transform Fayetteville Street into a Paris boulevard, complete with a 90-foot Ferris wheel dubbed "La Grande Roue de Raleigh," before thousands of people take to the streets Saturday for an evening of family-friendly fun.

The Ferris wheel, installed on the corner of Fayetteville and Hargett streets, may look familiar – it's the same one that dazzled State Fair goers in October. But this time it's a nod to the famous La Grande Roue de Paris, built in 1900 for a world's fair in the city.

"It will be a very unique thing. No one has ever seen Raleigh in open air from this far up, so I think it will be great," said Terri Dollar, program director for Artsplosure, the arts group that organizes First Night.

The Ferris wheel setup caused some Raleigh residents to stop in their tracks.

"I knew there was going to be a Ferris wheel, but I didn't think anything about it," said Lucetta Zaytoum. "We were running down the street and I went, "Whoa! What is that?' It's a Ferris wheel, right here in downtown. That is so awesome, totally riding it tomorrow."

Onlookers Amy Blitchok and Kelsey Dawson said watching the preparations downtown has convinced them to check out the First Night festivities for the first time.

"We didn't know about it, we just found out about it the other day, and we're coming down specifically to check it out," Blitchok said. 

"We were talking about what we were going to do, we didn't really know, and then we saw that all this was going on," Dawson said. "We're definitely excited to come down and be a part of it."

Earlier Friday, the city rushed to finish the famous acorn that drops at midnight.

The City Council voted unanimously in November to pay sculptor David Benson $3,400 to install three new copper panels on the 1,250-pound, steel-and-copper acorn, which was damaged in the April 16 tornado that swept through the city.

"There's a lot of pressure, isn't there? But I'll get it done," said Benson, who has spent weeks repairing the acorn. "Some people like to get it done way ahead of time, then they're done. They get their check, and they're just happy. I always do things and it's like the 11th hour and it's done."

The acorn, which spends 364 days of the year in Moore Square downtown, is a symbol of Raleigh and is lowered from a crane downtown to mark the countdown to the new year.

The 21st annual First Night Raleigh will cover a 20-block area of downtown and encompass more than two-dozen venues. This year’s celebration will feature comedy, dance, spoken word, interactive art installations and live music from performers representing genres including rock, blues, jazz, gospel, opera and folk.