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Lima adds symphony to end of year fete

LIMA, Ohio - When New Year's Eve comes around again, Lima will be going all out to help its residents rejoice.

The 2001 Town Square Gala will feature a concert by the Lima Symphony Orchestra, a wine and hors d'oeuvre reception, a gourmet supper, dancing, and champagne at midnight.

“This is a gala like you would see in Columbus or Indianapolis, and since we have a symphony orchestra that's very willing we thought, let's try it,” said Brian Keegan, director of the Veterans Memorial Civic & Convention Center, where the festivities will occur.

Mr. Keegan announced the plans yesterday at a news conference at the Lima-Allen County Chamber of Commerce.

He said he had never seen anything like this in the 81/2 years he has been in Lima as director of the civic center.

There will be a family component to the evening, he said, but those activities will be at the YMCA on South Elizabeth Street.

Lima has had a family-oriented New Year's Eve celebration for four years. It started out by hosting First Night, an alcohol-free celebration of the arts that was patterned after events in cities nationwide, from Boston to Toledo.

Like other cities, though, First Night was scrapped when money became a problem.

The Performing Arts Council of Toledo, which has sponsored First Night Toledo since 1993, is struggling to keep its head above water after racking up debts of more than $100,000. Organizers have said the event will be held Dec. 31, but it most likely will be a scaled-back version.

In Lima, the Council for the Arts of Greater Lima organized its inaugural First Night Dec. 31, 1997.

Nearly 4,000 people went downtown to enjoy 500 performers ranging from rock bands to comedians and woodcarvers.

Fewer than 3,000 people attended the second First Night, in large part because of freezing temperatures. And, in August, 1999, the arts council announced it would not hold a third First Night because of financial and managerial considerations.

To ring in 2000, the Lima/Allen County Renaissance 2000 committee invited residents downtown to see the new Wingate Hotel, the newly expanded civic center, and the new Market Street parking garage. Family activities were held - again in a nonalcoholic environment. A similar event was held Dec. 31, 2000.

Jay Smith, director of Downtown Lima, Inc., said he wished the city still was holding First Night, though he's glad to see family activities are being planned at the Y. “I thought it was a great alternative, but even a good event can't continue to operate in the red,” Mr. Smith said. “I think that with the symphony's involvement [this year], that will be the big attraction. The fact that the family events are continuing only at another location is a positive thing and still provides the environment some of us prefer to celebrate in.”

He said the symphony orchestra is “a big draw and one of the strongest cultural amenities in the downtown.”

Tickets for Lima's New Year's Eve event are to go on sale in July at the civic center box office.

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