As 18b Day approached in the Arts District, there were rumblings that First Friday’s Joey Vanas would announce changes to the festival’s footprint, extending (or moving) parts of it to Fremont East, something that had been done in the past.
But when Vanas took the stage in Boulder Plaza at April 16’s 18b Day celebration, recognizing area growth and changes, First Friday pioneers and the loss of Trifecta Gallery, he said only this of the festival location: “First Friday doesn’t just happen in the Arts District. It’s in Fremont East and all of the places in between.”
After the event, Vanas explained that people who have had a great time at First Friday talk about the dinner and drinks they had in Fremont East or elsewhere in the area, not the Arts District. It turns out the location expansion existed more in the minds of consumers than festival organizers. The footprint, he says, will remain as is: “We couldn’t move it if we wanted to.”
That might be the understatement of the year. Ask Brian “Paco” Alvarez, a Downtown resident and First Friday devotee who has attended since its small beginnings. “It’s become such a big part of the psyche of this city. Whether it’s canceled or not, people will still come Downtown.”
Even when previous owners announced a temporary cancelation of the event and tried to discourage attendance, people still showed up, Alvarez said.
While some art-related businesses such as Blackbird Studios have expressed being adversely affected by the crowds and parking problems, others such as the Nevada Humanities office in Art Square see the increased traffic as positively exposing more people to its rotating exhibits. Restaurants are packed. A late 2013 economic and fiscal study retained by the City of Las Vegas reports that First Friday alone generates $2.9 million in spending and produces $1.5 million annually in attendance revenue (assuming 300,000 attend annually, each spending $5).
Marc Abelman, an area business owner and president of the 18b Neighborhood Association, said that First Friday is now so big, “if it wasn’t there, it would still be there.”