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First Night organizers cite a lack of funds, volunteers as reasons for canceling event

First Night of Williamsburg — which would have celebrated its 25th anniversary this year — has been canceled amid a dearth of available labor and funds to support the event.

There aren’t enough volunteers to put on the family-friendly New Year’s Eve event this year, said co-chairmen Chris Odle and John Michael in a prepared statement.

“Without the individuals donating their time before, during, and after the event, we are unable to provide the quality experience that the community has come to expect,” according to the statement.

The organization ran into financial trouble in recent years. In 2015, it received a one-time grant from the Williamsburg to put on the event. The city gave $15,000 but did not provide any money in 2016.

In 2016, First Night raised its ticket prices. Adult tickets rose from $15 to $20, the first price change in at least 12 years. Family packs, a two-adult, two-children grouping for $50, went directly to the organization’s reserves.

Vice president of marketing and communications Susan Woodcock Tisdale seemed optimistic several weeks after the most recent First Night event in December 2016.

“Preliminary results conclude the event was a success,” she told the Gazette in January. “We exceeded our goal of 3,500 in total ticket sales.”

First Night Williamsburg’s revenue comes primarily from ticket sales. Leading up to its last event, First Night members raised prices and shifted their reserve policy in an attempt to keep the event financially viable.

The group’s expenses outpaced its revenues by about $7,000 in the group’s fiscal year that ended in March 2016, according to the most recent publicly available tax records the nonprofit filed with the IRS.

“First Night Williamsburg had reduced operating costs and made other changes to help make the event self-sustaining through ticket sales, but financial contributions from patrons of the arts and local governments, as well as corporate sponsorships, had been significantly curtailed over the past few years,” said co-chairmen Chris Odle and John Michael in their joint statement posted online Monday.

Chris Odle said the cancellation of this year’s event is a disappointment for all those who would have been involved.

“It’s unfortunate, but it pretty much speaks for itself,” he said. He declined to comment further beyond the statement on First Night Williamsburg’s Facebook page.

Tisdale stressed that any work on behalf of First Night in recent years has come from unpaid people who wanted to bring a night of fun to the community.

“Everyone on the Board has volunteered countless hours to provide a fun, family friendly event for the community. None of us wants to see that end, but we have to make the tough decision to cancel the event,” Tisdale said in the statement. “We’re extremely disappointed, but to continue without adequate funding or volunteers would be irresponsible.”

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