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#1, 'newbo evolve' loses $2.3 million | The Gazette Top Stories 2018

GO Cedar Rapids closed

"Evolve" painted into the hillside of Mount Trashmore for the Newbo Evolve festival photographed on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
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“Newbo evolve” was supposed to put Cedar Rapids on the map. It did, but for all the wrong reasons.

In January, city-funded tourism bureau GO Cedar Rapids announced a three-day summer festival with music, celebrity speakers, culinary experts and yoga and billed as a national attraction in the vein of South by Southwest.

Kelly Clarkson and Maroon 5 would headline the musical stage while fashion designers Carson Kressley and Christian Siriano, filmmaker John Waters, U.S. Olympian Adam Rippon and others would inspire and entertain. The Cedar Screamer Zipline would fly guests over the Cedar River.

Despite assurances otherwise from GO CR, the $375 festival pass never resonated with potential customers.

The Aug. 3-5 event received positive reviews, including from talent and city officials. But attendance was well below promises — 602 three-day passes sold out of 4,000 and 8,340 general admission concert tickets sold out of 22,000. Complimentary tickets amounted to 3,804.

The Zip line never was built.

Days after, the GO CR board of directors revealed the festival lost $2.3 million, organization President Aaron McCreight and community events director Scott Tallman had been fired, and the board had been misled about ticket sales, sponsorships and spending.

Numerous checks bounced, vendors were owed $800,000 and Bankers Trust was owed $1.5 million for a loan.

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City officials in October sealed GO CR’s fate behind closed doors as council members refused to continue hotel-motel tax payments, saying taxpayers shouldn’t bail out the organization or vendors, in spite of public calls to do so.

Despite promises for a full investigation and transparency, GO CR folded on Oct. 15 without paying vendors and few answers about what happened to the money. Rather than question the board, which included city representation, city officials praised them and redirected the hotel-motel tax money to start a new tourism office.

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

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