VIDEO VAULT | Ringing in the new year on Fremont Street

    Fireworks light up the sky over the then-Union Plaza hotel in downtown Las Vegas.

    For the past couple of decades, the Las Vegas Strip has been one of the world's hot spots to ring in the new year. But starting in the late '60s, the busy street that shut down traffic for the celebration was Fremont, downtown. That all changed starting 25 years ago.

    "There won't be fireworks this year, public firework this year downtown," said City of Las Vegas Fire Department Chief Clell West in December of 1993. "But we don't feel that's going to make an impact.

    The spectacular display high above Main and Fremont had been the centerpiece of the festivities. Over the previous several years, the numbers had grown significantly. There had been fights and people injured by thrown bottles.

    "With a crowd that size and close together drinking and merry-making and those types of things, we do have some injuries that occur," explained West. "But Metro does an excellent job of keeping that to a minimum."

    "Even though Union Plaza will be quiet on New Year's Eve, the forecast for the streets down here is completely different," reported News 3's Bob Clauson, referring to the hotel now referred to simply as the Plaza, which served as a platform for the fireworks. "People say they'll be down on Fremont for that New Year's Eve experience."

    "People will come down regardless," confirmed one visitor Clauson spoke with.

    "I think the crowd will be here just the same," added another.

    Not all were as sanguine,

    "That was one of my favorite things," complained a respondant. "My chick's, too. She always came for the fireworks."

    Meanwhile, the Strip continued to steadily pull in a greater percentage of tourists each year. 1993 began the high water mark of Las Vegas's "Family-Friendly" era. Three new mega-resorts had opened -- Treasure Island, Luxor and the new MGM all offered attractions that parents were comfortable bringing their kids to see.

    "At one time I would have thought any parent that brought their child to Las Vegas should be shot," a visitor told News 3 on December 28, 1993.

    "Why?" followed up reporter Paige Novodor.

    "I think gambling is one of those things that kids don't need to see. "

    "And what about now? Why are you here with your kids?"

    "I think between the MGM and the pirates and the restaurants, there's so many activities to do here with kids."

    But adults are the ones with the money, so Novodor checked in with a glamorous property that did not offer much for those under 21.

    "The weather is good," responded smiling hotel spokesman Phil Cooper. "I think the economy is on the upswing. And I think the other two or three are Caesars Palace, Caesars Palace, Caesars Palace."

    Many locals rejected both downtown and the Strip as party spots.

    "We're staying home tonight," one gambler at the Sante Fe Station told News 3's Rikki Cheese.

    "I'm going to stay home and watch it on TV," offered her friend.

    "The message we heard everywhere today, is to make sure you ring the New Year in safely," advised Cheese before whirling a clacker and blowing a noisemaker.

    As the midnight hour approached, things were getting very loose on both Fremont and the Strip.

    "Drink the free drinks, baby," slurred one reveler, grinning into a News 3 camera. "That's right!"

    The closure of Fremont had been a foregone conclusion. As crowds amassed on the Strip, for the first time it too was turned into a pedestrian mall for celebrants.

    "We had barricades ready, we had officers prepared to come in and we've done exactly that," said Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Steve Harney.

    There was no major organized fireworks extravaganza, though smaller displays could be spotted in both resort areas. By 12:30, crowds were already dispersing on the Strip and barricades being removed. On Fremont Street it was a different story, and authorities took a hard-line response.

    "A little before 1:00 this morning, Fremont was still packed with people celebrating the new year," said reporter Teri Thomas on January 1, 1994. "Police wanted to clear the street, so they set off a round of pepper spray and walked down the street in riot gear. It worked. A lot of people started coughing and running to get out of the way and the downtown New Year's party quickly came to an end."

    Later in 1994, Fremont between Main and Las Vegas Boulevard was closed to vehicular traffic permanently for construction of the Fremont Street Experience, where these days there is a large-scale, paid-admission celebration on New Year's Eve, but no fireworks.

    By the new millennium, the Las Vegas Strip had developed a world-class fireworks show viewed on television around the world, and by upwards of 300,000 visitors in person. The entire experience will be carried live from multiple ground locations as well as Sky 3 this Monday night.

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