Washington's two-day New Year's festival, a homegrown affair along Constitution Avenue NW that was planned in just five months, came off with nary a hitch and cleared about $40,000, according to its organizers.
The District's "Main Street Millennium," overcoming skeptics who doubted the city could throw a successful party, drew a crowd estimated at more than 300,000 people Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. Organizers also made good on their pledge that no public dollars would be spent, raising $465,000 in sponsorships and about $310,000 in food, drink and souvenir sales.
"This was the best of D.C.," said Sandy McCall, executive director of Millennium Washington, an effort that will continue through 2000 to commemorate the city's 200th anniversary as the nation's capital. There were no altercations, no public drunkenness, "not even one incident of a police officer going up and saying, 'Hey, buddy, calm it down.' "
And the Jan. 2 cleanup went so smoothly that workers were able to reopen Constitution Avenue several hours ahead of schedule, city officials said.
For 20 hours of celebration, the festival filled four blocks of that prominent thoroughfare with a sweeping melange of music, food and people. On one stage alone one afternoon, Celtic song followed salsa rhythms followed doo-wop beat. It was intensely up close and local, in part because of performers like Mary Jefferson, who began her blues career on U Street almost six decades ago.
"Nearly all of Washington, D.C., turned out," the Washington Afro American applauded in an article last weekend. The newspaper, often critical of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), offered him a grudging compliment, saying the festival "may have been one of the few events the mayor has sponsored that turned out to be a success, and one where the residents of the city finally got to see him in rare form, as a down-to-earth person."
The universal praise for the District's millennial welcome was in sharp contrast to assessments of the New Year's Eve celebrity show at the Lincoln Memorial, which was faulted by some in-the-crowd critics as a television event catering mainly to the White House and its VIP guests. There were complaints about long lines to get onto the memorial grounds, long waits between acts to accommodate commercials, and a midnight fireworks display that, while spectacular, was too brief, with many in the audience not aware that more fireworks would be going off at 1 a.m.
For the city celebration, several firms initially submitted proposals that would have cost well over $3 million. A few bills remain to be paid, but McCall expects the bottom line to be about $734,000, nearly half of which went for tents, generators and signs.
How to spend the leftover $40,000 is under discussion. One option is to use it to kick off a nonprofit city parks conservancy to help fund youth recreation programs.
An announcement likely will be made next month when the mayor unveils the city's "legacy year" program of events and exhibits to mark its bicentennial. A high-powered committee headed by James V. Kimsey, a founder and chairman emeritus of America Online Inc., has raised nearly $500,000 so far in support of those activities.
Relaxing in his office this week, surrounded by the leftover pamphlets, McCall said several things helped the small contingent of city employees, consultants and volunteers pull off a successful party. Attendance likely was boosted by the cancellation of two other downtown New Year's Eve galas. Mother Nature cooperated, too, offering the crowd springlike temperatures.
But McCall never worried about the weather.
"When you go through as many ups and downs as we did to pull this off in five months, with as few resources as we had except for the goodwill of people, I had no doubt we'd have good weather," he said. "It was destiny."