Watch CBSN Live

Seattle Scrubs Millennium Bash

End-of-the-century terrorism - or at least the threat of it - has taken its first casualty, CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker reports.

Citing public safety concerns, on Tuesday Seattle mayor Paul Schell cancelled the city's huge New Year's Eve party at the famed Space Needle. "Although we are confident that Seattle is not a target - that is the advice we have received from the FBI - they can't at the same time assure us there is no risk," he said.

Fifty thousand people were expected at the celebration, dubbed the Times Square of the Pacific. The cancellation was met with both relief and resentment.

There have been no specific threats, but the mood has been restless since Ahmed Ressam was arrested north of the city two weeks ago. Ressam was crossing the border from Canada with a car-trunk full of explosives; court documents reportedly show he had plastic explosives, much more sophisticated than the nitroglycerine first revealed.

According to Schell, "Obviously we took into account that there would be those who say we gave in to terrorism. I'm concerned about the safety and public well-being of my citizens."

The New-Age city of cappuccino and computers is now facing age-old problems of fear and strife. During the World Trade Organization meeting last month, Seattle police were first criticized for being too slow to react to violent demonstrators, and were later blamed for overreacting. Seattle historian Walt Crowley thinks "we have learned some things about ourselves, about our police capabilities as a result of WTO, that are being applied with this decision."

U.S. officials largely have sought to play down fears of violence by extremists on New Year's weekend, but they have urged Americans not to let down their guard.

City Council President Sue Donaldson, on the CBS News Early Show, said authorities "have been watching the situation" closely and decided to give the public a few days notice and cancel the event now.

"Ultimately it is a decision the mayor makes and has made," Donaldson said. "It seemed like the prudent thing to do."

Afternoon concerts in Seattle will proceed as planned, but the 75-acre Seattle Center grounds will be cleared and the gates locked at 6 p.m., canceling rock performances, dancing, art exhibits and other festivities.

A private party in the Needle, nearly 10 years in the planning, was to be allowed, but party organizer Wendy Warren said fears prompted many of the 750 family and friends expected to cancel.

©1999 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Reuters contributed to this report