First Night St. Louis Review
We attended First Night St. Louis in Grand Center again this year, but generally felt last year's program was much, much better.
Others have complained that they didn't know about the $5 buttons required for admission to all indoor venues. I knew about that; but did have some difficulty acquiring them.
The MetroRide store downtown at 7th and Washington was supposedly selling the buttons. However, when I stopped by on Friday, December 30th, they were closed all day. I guess MetroRide management figured there wouldn't be anybody downtown that day; they were also closed Dec. 23rd, Dec. 26th, and Jan. 2nd. The only notice of this closure was a sign taped to the door.
The St. Louis visitors' info center to which MetroRide is attached was also closed, which also seems like a mistake; after all, wouldn't there be people in town for the holidays that needed information about things to do? Although the CVC has a blog, I saw no mention of this closure there.
Since 12/30/05 was payday, I had planned to purchase my monthly bus pass and the buttons all in one stop. I didn't have enough money in the bank to make a $70 purchase any earlier than Friday. So instead, I ended up buying the buttons at First Night, and the bus pass on Monday at Shop N Save.
Last year, since it was the 2004 finale, First Night had a lot of corporate sponsorships. National City Bank gave away wristbands, and I think the Lion King flashlights were a giveaway item, too. Admission was free, which is not usually the case; First Night usually did cost $5 in the past. I think it was free on 12/31/03 as well for the 2004 kick-off, but recall that was quite a mess, with traffic (both cars and shuttle buses) in Forest Park being tied up for hours. First Night itself was confined to the Zoo that year, I think, since most of the other really popular events did serve alcohol.
This year, there was obviously much less corporate funding. And it showed. The craft-making events at Busch Student Center were pretty much closed up by 10:00, at least an hour earlier than scheduled. Given that attendance was much, much less than last year, that suggests they really didn't stock up on supplies at all. The only kid-oriented entertainment remaining at the BSC was one lonely sole making balloon animals in the lower-level lobby. I really felt for that guy.
The food setup was less than ideal. All the vendors were crammed together in a single enclosed tent on Washington; and they seemed to run out of food too early. Last year, roughly the same area was used, but each vendor had individual access points, so separate lines could easily form. The other locales where "food" was supposedly available, such as the very sad looking "Flying Monkey Coffee House" (the former location of People's Coffee and The Commonspace) and a little stall on the front steps of the Sheldon, only had beverages and candy.
I guess the upside is that traffic leaving was pretty light. The best deal for parking was the $4 SLU garage on Laclede. There was almost no traffic when we left, about 12:20 or so by the time we walked down there after watching the closing fireworks. Admittedly, we sat next to SLU's fountain at Grand and Lindell, but we didn't really hear the countdown. We probably could have used Metro to get there, but I didn't hear about any special service local buses - the brochure only promoted MetroLink and the "free" shuttle (with paid MetroLink ticket).
Although the #70 Grand does normally have a 12:30 southbound run on Saturday night/Sunday morning, that's the last one. And taking the #70 would require a really long walk home. The #52 Clayton-South County goes within two blocks of our house, but I saw its last run go through about 11:20.
Finally, on our way to the parking garage, we were waiting with a group of other pedestrians (mostly families with small children) to cross Grand in the signalized crosswalk at West Pine Mall on the SLU campus. The light turned red, and the walk sign came on... and then, a police car came zooming through northbound on Grand, narrowly missing the group of pedestrians. The police car did not have its lights and siren on; they just weren't paying attention.
I'm used to seeing police violate traffic laws in my neighborhood all the time; I just didn't expect to see it during an event that attracts families from the suburbs!