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OUR OPINION: Enjoy First Night at the Alerus Center

First Night Greater Grand Forks opens a new chapter in local history tonight with First Night's first-ever celebration in the Alerus Center. It could be a good omen, given that it means the Grand Forks area will be ringing out the old year and ri...

First Night Greater Grand Forks opens a new chapter in local history tonight with First Night's first-ever celebration in the Alerus Center.

It could be a good omen, given that it means the Grand Forks area will be ringing out the old year and ringing in the new one on a classy, clever and creative note.

First Night is a nonalcoholic festival of the arts, culture and entertainment. Since 1994, it has been held New Year's Eve in downtown Grand Forks and East Grand Forks; and year after year, it has given local families a fun and memorable way to welcome the new year.

But turnout has been iffy, with some years seeing banner numbers of people and other years seeing comparatively few. In a smart and courageous move, the festival's leadership recognized the problem and took a big step to fix it.

This year, as a result, the festival will be held for the first time in the Alerus Center. The strategy seems likely to work, because judging by the festivals of years past, the Alerus Center location tackles First Night's No. 1 problem head on.

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That problem is weather -- specifically, the fact that New Year's Eve in Grand Forks so often is snowy and very cold. So, while holding the festival downtown drew interested families for a time or two, the bloom came off of the frozen rose, and those same families proved unwilling to brave the elements year after year after year.

Holding First Night in the Alerus Center should take care of that. Moreover, the new location seems likely to work because it keeps what's fun about First Night -- the variety -- while jettisoning the element that's a chore -- the weather.

Tonight, rather than move from building to building in downtown Grand Forks and East Grand Forks -- a task that forced attendees to trek from, say, Sacred Heart School in East Grand Forks to Central High in Grand Forks -- people will have to move only between the Alerus Center's various rooms.

So, when the Open Mic Competition finishes up at 8 in the large ballroom, festivalgoers will have to stroll only down the hall to Room 6 to see the Dakota Science display. Then it'll be off to Room 3 to see the O'Neil Family Band and so on.

It's a clever plan and one that plays to First Night and the Alerus Center's strengths.

Congratulations to Michele Kjelshus, First Night coordinator, the First Night board and the others who had a hand in devising this creative strategy. The team and the many volunteers who support First Night also deserve the area's thanks. Festivals such as these seem to just materialize in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, but of course that's not how it happens. They appear only because a lot of people put in a lot of hard work, and the effort very often takes months.

Thanks again. Downtown Grand Forks has no bigger booster than the Herald; but in First Night's case, the move to the Alerus Center seems like a good idea. Grand Forks and East Grand Forks families should check it out.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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