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Hundreds attend New Haven costume party

By Zander Dryer

Local architect George Zdru envisioned a surreal cocktail party in downtown New Haven, with fire-eaters entertaining dancing partygoers. Mayor John DeStefano, Jr., envisioned a way to promote his ongoing revitalization plans for the city, with residents enjoying a new public space. Downtown business owners envisioned a chance to drive up sales, with more people spending money in bars and restaurants.
HYURA CHOI/YH

But mostly "we all wanted people to come together and have a good time," Zdru explained. With this goal uniting their different visions of a Halloween party, New Haven residents, community organizers, and business owners joined together to create the First Annual New Haven Costume Party.

In its final form, the event offered dancing and live music to hundreds of costumed Halloween revelers in the new Temple Street Courtyard—across from the Omni Hotel and bordered by the Shubert Theater, Chapel Street businesses, and the Crown Street Parking Garage. Organizers transformed the center of the garage's circular up-ramp into a dance floor, with lights projecting abstract patterns on the inside of the ramp and loudspeakers pumping out dance music. The steps of the Courtyard were set up as a stage for a performance by Caribbean band Mikata, and green lights shone on the sides of surrounding buildings to give the event an appropriately spooky air.

The party's genesis came this past summer, when the city finished work on the Temple Street Courtyard. The $3.6 million project was undertaken to link the Omni, the Shubert, and many restaurants and entertainment venues along Chapel, Crown, and College Streets. The city demolished two vacant buildings at 160 Temple St. and transformed what was once a dangerous alley into the Courtyard.

Once the work was complete, DeStefano began searching for a way to showcase the results. He turned to Sue Hartt, the executive director of Market New Haven, a newly-formed nonprofit group organized to promote the city. A joint project between the City of New Haven, Yale University, and local business leaders, Market New Haven has received nearly $1 million in funds for its first year's budget. Hartt and others formed a planning committee and began exploring different events that would best showcase the Courtyard. They were joined by architect Zdru, who is also the Facilities Manager at Yale Medical School, Barbara Feldman, an organizer of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, Michael Morand, SY '87, DIV '93, Yale's associate vice president for New Haven and state affairs, and, as Hartt put it, "a number of people who are, in the mayor's eyes, cool."

The committed decided Halloween would be an ideal occasion to invite residents into the new Courtyard. Zdru said the committee looked at the Halloween Parade in New York City's Greenwich Village and tried to model its efforts on that event's success. "We liked the way the New York parade—with everyone marching and in costume—was truly a participatory party," he explained.

Still, organizers struggled with different conceptions of what the Halloween party would ultimately be. One initial idea was that the event would be by invitation only, with guests paying $30 apiece for the party and an open bar. "We wanted to restrict it somehow so that only cool people could come," joked Hartt. Another idea was that the event would be open to the public, but that there would be a cash bar. Zdru said the committee rejected that idea "because it was too complex. We didn't want to get in the business of carding people, and we realized that people could go out for drinks ahead of time at local bars and restaurants."

Ultimately, the planning group settled on the idea of a costumed dance party and concert. Sponsors, who included the City of New Haven, Yale University, the New Haven Parking Authority, the accounting firm of Simione, Scillia, Larrow & Dowling, and C.J. Fucci Construction, agreed to put up the $15,000 to $18,000 in expenses, and organizers hired a production crew and began advertising the event.

Hartt said she was pleased with this year's event, estimating that there were 300 to 400 people in attendance at the party's busiest moments. She said she had plans to expand the event but emphasized that, at least for the first year, "we needed to make sure people would actually come." "Hopefully it will be easier to promote next year," she added. "We'll be able to say, `Come to the Second Annual New Haven Costume Party.' The idea is that every year it will get bigger, much the way the Village's parade has."

Those who scoff at the notion that a small party could grow into an event as massive as the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade would do well to note that event's history. The parade began in 1973 with one puppeteer taking his children and their friends from house to house. This year, it was the largest parade of its kind, with 30,000 participants and over two million spectators. It was covered by the international news media and broadcast nationwide on two different television networks.

New Haven certainly has a long way to go. But there is nothing to prevent a little city from having big-city dreams.

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