RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Thousands packed Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh as the First Night celebration for New Year's Eve returned after pausing in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There were several firsts for the celebration including being moved completely outdoors as cases of coronavirus surge with the Omicron variant.
Visitors ages 6 and older were required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from an official testing site within 48 hours.
"I feel safe," said Knightdale resident Tralene Williams, who attended First Night Raleigh. "I mean, I have my mask, but, I'm outdoors so it's all good to me."
First Night Raleigh is a tradition for thousands happy to have it back in the Capital City to end 2021. For many visitors in town for the holidays, it is a new memory they were happy to see for the first time in Raleigh.
"Me and my wife came down from New York," said Richard Hines, who is visiting his daughter in North Carolina. "It's really, really beautiful. I really appreciate this."
Meanwhile, the hospitality industry is looking forward to a big night and a rebound from the struggles brought on by the pandemic.
At the AC Hotel in Glenwood South, a New Year's Eve event was held with a mask mandate but no vaccine requirement.
"If you have a great venue on New Year's Eve, it's probably one of the best nights of the year, and it's smart to take those precautions," said Jordan Kayser, the hotel's Director of Food and Beverage. "We're open to people being safe for their own good."
The event was ticketed and limited to 200 people, with physical distancing and a full buffet and open bar.
"We're not allowing ourselves to have that spillover," Kayser said. "We want this to be a well-mannered, well-kept event. We're beyond ordinary."
Fran Pinder came from Wake Forest to Raleigh to take in First Night but avoided bars and restaurants.
"It feels good to be out and about, the weather is beautiful, a new year, new possibilities I'm looking forward to it," Pinder said. "I'm just going to hang with family and play games and just enjoy each other's company."
The Raleigh Downtown Alliance told ABC11 that it has seen a 140% increase in foot traffic since the start of 2020, a good sign for bars, restaurants and other fixtures on Raleigh's nightlife scene.
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