Noel Night tweaks schedule after 2017 shooting
Correction: This story has been updated to remove errant information about the Detroit Public Library’s main branch. On Dec. 1, the Detroit Public Library’s main branch will be open its normal hours until 6 p.m., with no special programming for midtown Detroit’s Noel Night celebration. It will host a Sunday Family Funday from 1-6 p.m. Dec. 2.
Eight months after a shooting disrupted Detroit's early December arts-and-music festival, Noel Night is taking steps aimed at crowd control -- limiting some evening activities, adding new daytime opportunities and slightly expanding the festival footprint.
To reduce congestion at night, the biggest institutions -- the museums and the Detroit Public Library Main Branch -- will offer their Noel Night programming starting at 11 a.m., and closing at 5 p.m. on Dec. 1, the event's date this year.
All the other 100-plus venues, whether bars, shops, restaurants, churches or galleries, will carry on as usual from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Noel Night is a holiday open house stretching all across the Cultural Center that includes holiday shopping, horse-drawn carriage rides, family activities, ice-sculpting, craft projects and free performances by more than 200 area music, theater and dance groups.
In many respects, the festival, which last year drew 75,000, has been a victim of its own success.
"We've just had too many people in too short a time," said Susan Mosey, executive director of Midtown Detroit Inc., which organizes the 45-year-old event. She points out that on past Noel Nights up to 25,000 visitors have surged through the Detroit Institute of Arts in just five hours.
As in previous years, museums will be open to the public free of charge. The Detroit Historical Museum no longer charges admission, and tri-county residents always get into the DIA for free. But Noel Night's daytime hours will save everyone else the entrance fee.
Noel Night visitors will also save big at the Michigan Science Center (ordinarily $14 for adults) and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History ($8 - adults).
Last year's shooting spree injured four teens and generated a frantic, confused melee along both John R and Woodward, where the sheer density of people, some panicked and some unwitting, made it hard for police cars to even access the crime scene.
"Parking, congestion and security have been longstanding issues," Mosey said. "It just got too big."
As was the case last year, no streets will be closed as part of the celebration.
In years past, Woodward between the DIA and the library would close, but Midtown Detroit was told by both transit officials and the Detroit Police that that would be impossible once the QLine was up and running.
The hope with the new changes is that expanding into the daytime will spread the throngs over a longer period of time, and give parents with small children a more family-friendly opportunity to enjoy the fun.
Detroit Police Chief James Craig called the plan "a great strategy."
"The night events are more geared toward adults," he added, "and there likely won’t be as many parents dropping off kids and leaving them unsupervised. Historically, that’s been an issue."
Mosey thinks it will all add up to a less frantic celebration. "That's been the biggest complaint over the years," she said. "How do you expect us to go to 100 venues in just a few hours?"
Detroiter David Lilly concedes that being able to waltz into the Historical Museum or the Wright Museum after dark was always kind of cool, but he doesn't think the changes diminish the festival's appeal.
"A great part of Noel Night is going to smaller bars, shops and restaurants," he said. "Even without the museums, I think it will still be a splendid night."
Other changes for 2018 include an expanded footprint, which will stretch a couple blocks farther south to Charlotte, pulling in the new Founders Brewing Co. (Last year it ended at Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.)
But don't worry -- none of the traditional Noel Night fun is going away.
Wayne State will still host its Winter Art and Retail Market, and there still will be a Salvation Army community singalong -- albeit probably on Cass rather than Woodward.
"We'll still have the carriage rides, lots of arts and crafts, and Santas," Mosey promised. "We're not reducing any programming. We're expanding and adding new stuff."