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12 hours of fun set for uptown New Year's Eve

Charlotte will be ringing in the new year Friday with football, basketball and a late-night uptown celebration, all tied together with discounts for some events if you buy tickets to another.

Organizers are hoping a combination of sunny, mid-50s weather and half-price specials on Bobcats tickets and First Night Charlotte admission will help draw a big crowd uptown Friday, especially as ticket sales for the day's Meineke Car Care Bowl are lagging.

"We really want people to come to these events, and we want to make them as affordable as possible," said Center City Partners spokeswoman Moira Quinn. She said this year is the first time uptown's New Year's events have been tied together with such close promotions.

Anyone who attends the bowl game at noon can get a half-price wristband for First Night, an alcohol-free New Year's Eve celebration along South Tryon Street featuring music, dance groups and other performers.

Anyone with a First Night wristband can get any available ticket for half price to the Bobcats vs. Golden State Warriors game at 3 p.m., and anyone with a Bobcats ticket can also get a half-price wristband. Kids under 6 can go to the Bobcats game free.

Ticket sales for Friday's Meineke Bowl are lower than organizers hoped for. They say University of South Florida fans aren't traveling and Clemson fans are buying fewer seats.

"We're sitting on about 40,000 sold right now, and it's been pretty much stagnant for the last week or so," said bowl spokesman Frank Kay. "We hit 50,000 last year, but unless there's a big walk-up I don't see us hitting more than the mid 40s."

USF has only sold about 3,000 of its 12,500 allotted tickets, and while Clemson has sold all 12,500 of its tickets, the school hasn't requested any more, Kay said.

The nine-year-old bowl game last sold out in 2008, when North Carolina played West Virginia in Charlotte in front of 73,000 fans.

Fewer fans traveling to Charlotte likely equals fewer hotel rooms filled and restaurant tables occupied. But the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority is still predicting the city's businesses will net $18.5million, which is the game's average yearly economic impact since 2002.

The amount of business the game - which will be known as the Belk Bowl next year - brings in can vary significantly from year to year depending on the teams and timing of the game, officials say.

In 2002, the CRVA estimates fans spent about $27 million on food, hotels and other businesses when the University of Virginia played West Virginia. The next year, however, the UVA vs. University of Pittsburgh game netted only an estimated $14 million in revenue.

Last year's North Carolina vs. Pittsburgh game sold some 50,000 tickets and brought in an estimated $16 million to the city, the CRVA said.

Some critics say such economic impact estimates are often rosy, failing to take into account the cost of events and measuring spending in places like restaurants that may well have been packed even without special events.

Hotel occupancy in Charlotte topped 61 percent in October, a nearly 10 percent improvement from the same month a year ago. That marked the 10th consecutive month of year-over-year occupancy improvements, which hasn't happened since 2005-06, according to the CRVA.

Irene Peterson, director of sales and marketing at the Omni Charlotte, wouldn't discuss the hotel's occupancy rates but said they were generally similar to last year.

The Omni does get a welcome boost from hosting the Big East team USF this year.

Said Peterson: "I can only say that it's good for the hotel and good for the city."

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