As many as 50,000 people are expected to crowd uptown streets today and tonight to welcome the arrival of 2009.

The big attraction: The return of First Night Charlotte, an alcohol-free celebration that used to be a New Year’s eve mainstay before city officials dropped it 12 years ago during budget cuts.

Activities begin at 3 p.m. with First Night Kids. Adult fun starts at 7 p.m. with the “People’s Procession,” a revelers parade that will move from Discovery Place to the Duke Energy stage at 300 South Tryon St.

Throughout the evening, partygoers can pick from a range of entertainment options, all centered around the cultural arts. Then, of course, there is the countdown to ‘09.

About 25,000 people are expected to attend various First Night events, said Moira Quinn, senior vice president for communications at Charlotte Center City Partners, which joined the Arts & Science Council to produce the event. An additional 25,000 are expected to visit uptown bars, restaurants and hotels.

Partygoers must have a First Night button to attend various events. The buttons sell for $10. Admission is free for children under 12 who are accompanied by an adult. As of early afternoon, Quinn said, about 9,500 of the 15,000 buttons were sold.

Quinn said she was not overly concerned about crowd control. During some previous uptown events, police have cracked down on youth gangs who have caused trouble.

“The police have a security plan in place, and it’s behavior based,” Quinn said. “If people are behaving properly, everyone is welcomed.”

Quinn said she believes First Night Charlotte will have enough “positive programs” to keep attendees entertained and orderly.

Police officials said they will strictly enforce the city’s curfew. Children age 16 and under are not allowed out after 11 p.m. without adult supervision. Officers also will be patrolling for drunk drivers.

For maps, additional information and a complete schedule of First Night events, visit the website.

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