Arts & Culture

'All hands on deck' pulling together newbo evolve

Hotels filling up as many tasks remain for huge August festival

Katy Baker of Iowa City signs up for a chance to win a free weekend pass to Newbo Evolve at the Go Cedar Rapids table at the BBQ Roundup at McGrath Amphitheatre on Friday, June 22, 2018.
Katy Baker of Iowa City signs up for a chance to win a free weekend pass to Newbo Evolve at the Go Cedar Rapids table at the BBQ Roundup at McGrath Amphitheatre on Friday, June 22, 2018.
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CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s “all hands on deck” at the GO Cedar Rapids offices as the staff irons out details, locks in contracts, permits and licenses and firms up logistics with “newbo evolve” just six weeks away — illustrating the enormous task of producing the first year of possibly the largest festival the city has ever seen.

The local tourism bureau producing the three-day newbo evolve — it’s intentionally spelled in all lowercase — has been ground zero for planning.

“As far as workload, there’s not enough hours in the week,” said Aaron McCreight, president of GO Cedar Rapids. “So many days, it’s ‘When did it become 6 o’clock?’ You are in it and working it to the bone and realize you haven’t eaten lunch today.

“For so long, it was not even a thought it was possible we could do something like this, but we are. There’s been great electricity in this office for a long time, but especially since the launch when we could talk about it publicly.”

The Aug. 3-5 festival features entertainment headliners Maroon 5 and Kelly Clarkson, along with a diverse mix of more than a dozen speakers and performers, such as figure skater Adam Rippon, craftsman Clint Harp and film director John Waters, access to a private pollinator garden, morning yoga, charm school and a “mimosa mile.”

It is part music festival, part speaker series, part health, wellness, cuisine, art and fashion.

After plans for a zip line across the Cedar River unraveled when a perspective vendor fell through, McCreight assured the festival is very much still on.

“This is not a maybe,” he said. “This is happening.”

While GO Cedar Rapids is a private nonprofit organization, the Cedar Rapids City Council allocates public money to it from hotel-motel taxes, accounting for $1 million of its $1.6 million annual budget. The council advanced $500,000 from the next disbursement to help pay for the zip line and to book talent.

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McCreight said the staff is in “full promotion mode,” splitting time between promotion and planning while still juggling other duties.

Most of the venues have been booked and earlier this week a schedule of events was posted on the website. Much work remains from a regulatory and logistics standpoint, including a permit from the fire marshal, permission for street closures, solidifying parking plans and locking down NewBo City Market grounds for a VIP lounge.

Purchasers of a three-day all-access pass will have exclusive entry to the lounge to “rest, relax and imbibe at their pleasure,” McCreight said.

Tyler Ackerson, program planner for the Alcoholic Beverage Division, said the division has not yet received an application for a liquor license. He recommended organizations start the process no later than 45 days out from an event so the staff can process the request and the local City Council can approve it, he said.

“We try to make every accommodation we can, but this is our busy season, so we encourage folks to plan ahead,” he said, noting organizations can apply closer to the event but warned they could run into time constraints.

City staff said there is no reason the festival won’t meet regulatory requirements on time.

“The city is continuing to work with newbo evolve organizers to get appropriate items for permits,” Greg Buelow, Cedar Rapids public safety spokesman, said in an email. “There have been no issues and this is not unusual to continue to be working on event specifics more than a month from an event.”

McCreight acknowledged many details are still up in the air, and in some cases they have had to “pivot.” He said he expects to have tasks and adjustments up until the opening act.

“We meet regularly with the city events committee: police, fire, permitting, streets, traffic, real estate, everybody you can imagine that would be involved in a festival of this nature,” he said. “We are meeting with them on a regular basis determining what licenses we need, what permitting we need, and making sure those i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.”

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On street closures, organizers have an idea of what streets would be closed and when, but they don’t have a firm plan yet, he said.

Scott Kruger, executive director of the NewBo City Market, said he and others are eager for details. Street closures could have an impact on businesses, for example.

Organizers have been accessible, holding meetings and responding to calls and emails, he said. He is remaining patient, understanding the challenges of putting together such a large event, especially for the first time.

“I for one applaud their boldness,” Kruger said. “They are trying something new. I think it creates a business opportunity that nobody in NewBo or Czech Village has had before them. Nobody has done a festival like this, like they’ve done in Austin or Bonnaroo near Nashville.”

Organizers of established festivals, such as the ongoing Freedom Festival in Cedar Rapids and 80/35 on July 6-7 in Des Moines describe locking in reservations and permits as far as a year out and having secured permits, licenses, street closures and other procedural requirements three to four months before the event to avoid the unexpected. The process gets easier in subsequent years, they said.

“When you fill out applications, things could change,” said Robyn Rieckhoff, executive director of Freedom Festival. “I send my stuff in way early and then make changes if needed.”

McCreight remained quiet about ticket sales. The Ticketmaster website shows three-day pass seating available in virtually every section of a venue near the Sinclair levee, which will take seven to 10 days to construct. GO Cedar Rapids recently announced it is offering $100 off the three-day pass, which had been going for $375 or $402.50 with taxes.

Selling individual tickets to down-card sessions and activities — aside from individual passes to Kelly Clarkson and Maroon 5 — is difficult because it could cramp space reserved for VIP pass holders at smaller venues, such as the public library or CSPS Hall, McCreight said.

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McCreight said he expects to fill the 3,000 hotel rooms in the area that weekend. Along with local sales, it should generate a lot of money for the area.

“We will be sold out that weekend from a hotel capacity standpoint,” he said, noting ticket buyers are coming from 28 states and some local residents are booking hotels to “live it up” that weekend.

Dipti Amin, general manager of Comfort Inn & Suites near Collins Road NE and Interstate 380, said demand has been similar to other summer weekends with about 10 rooms remaining on Saturday of the weekend and still plenty of space available on that Friday and Sunday.

The DoubleTree Hotel downtown is showing as unavailable that weekend on online reservation sites, such as Hotels.com, Priceline and Google, and several other hotels show few remaining rooms.

“Our future reservations log support our anticipation of having a very busy hotel,” said Jay Anderkin, general manager of the DoubleTree complex. “Normally due to vacations and other summer events, Aug. 3-5 can be a slower business period for us. We are hopeful and excited about evolve.”

Harp, the craftsman who’s built a television audience as a furniture maker and is one of the featured presenters, sees the event progressing smoothly from his end.

He will be discussing his decision to risk everything and change careers during a 1 p.m. Aug. 4 session at the Cedar Rapids Convention Center.

“They are putting together an incredible event out there,” Harp said in a phone interview from Waco, Texas. “I am honored to be part of an event with so many talented people.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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