Community

After 'newbo evolve,' GO Cedar Rapids' future uncertain

Board conducting 'thorough' financial review of expensive festival

The Kickstand bar fills with VIP festival ticket holders Aug. 4 on the second day of the “newbo evolve” festival. Nearby merchants reported very different degrees of being able to attract customers and make sales during the three-day event. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
The Kickstand bar fills with VIP festival ticket holders Aug. 4 on the second day of the “newbo evolve” festival. Nearby merchants reported very different degrees of being able to attract customers and make sales during the three-day event. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The future of the Cedar Rapids tourism bureau is uncertain less than two weeks after GO Cedar Rapids produced the major “newbo evolve” festival celebrated by some as a success but questioned by others over its financial viability.

Following a private board of directors meeting Friday, John Myers, board chairman for GO Cedar Rapids, said the organization is in a “time of transition” following the festival, the three-day event earlier this month that featured Kelly Clarkson, Maroon 5 and celebrity speakers.

“The board of directors is conducting a thorough review of the financial performance of the first-year event, as well as related administrative matters,” Myers said Friday afternoon. “Once this assessment is completed, the board is planning to share an update with the community. GO Cedar Rapids remains dedicated to its mission of promoting the region as a premier destination for travel, tourism and events.”

Myers, speaking by phone, declined to comment on the employment status of Aaron McCreight, the chief executive of GO Cedar Rapids, or the longer viability of the organization.

The board now is in charge of operating the office, 200 Second St. SE, which he said will open Monday for normal business hours.

Myers declined to say what role the board played in overseeing the festival or its budget. He also declined to say who and how many people serve on the board; if any of the members had resigned or been removed; or say who serves on the executive committee, which worked most closely with McCreight.

The Gazette reached out to several members for comment Friday and only Myers responded.

McCreight remains listed as one of the nine employees in the office. He has not returned messages seeking comment.

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Scott Tallman, the creative director of newbo evolve, was dismissed last week, but said he was not given a reason.

The festival was seen as bold but risky. Early on, organizers had predicted a budget of $4 to $5 million, which dwarfed the budget of more established festivals such as 80/35 in Des Moines and Iowa City Jazz Festival.

The price tag of $400 for a three-day, all-access pass also was significantly more than for other Iowa festivals.

Still, those who attended reported positive feedback and many hoped a similar festival would be held annually.

But the festival drew smaller than expected crowds and mixed reviews from business owners. Parlor City Pub & Eatery, at 12th Avenue and Third Street SE, reported the Saturday during the festival was its top sales day ever. But some other merchants said their sales plummeted and criticized a lack of collaboration.

A number of other questions remain, including how many tickets were sold, how much money the festival lost — organizers acknowledged they did not expect to make money the first year — and whether a second newbo evolve is in the cards.

“I want to provide as much information as I am able, and we are working toward being able to do that over the course of the next week,” said Myers, who is executive director of the Indian Creek Nature Center.

The GO Cedar Rapids operating budget is $2 million annually, Myers said. About half of the organization’s budget is publicly funded through hotel-motel taxes, which are allocated by the Cedar Rapids City Council.

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The city also advanced $500,000 for the festival. That money is due by Sept. 1 or will be withheld from upcoming hotel-motel tax allocations.

Wednesday, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz told The Gazette editorial board he does not believe the city should cover a deficit of GO Cedar Rapids, adding the city had not been asked do so.

The city has two representatives on the GO Cedar Rapids board of directors: City Council member Scott Overland and Angie Charipar, assistant to the city manager.

Overland earlier this week described the board as engaged and one that asked questions, but he noted there was a limit to the information members received.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart, who was among those who said he enjoyed the festival, urged the board and organization to be transparent with the public.

“If there were serious issues — I don’t know what they are, I hope not — it could be beneficial if they can say, ‘Here’s something that went wrong’ and other organizations or GO Cedar Rapids in the future can learn from that and say, ‘Let’s make sure we don’t do it that way.’”

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

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