Officials give 'newbo evolve' good grades

Whether it was a financial success remains to be seen

CEDAR RAPIDS — The word Aaron McCreight heard that’s his favorite description of last weekend’s “newbo evolve” is “audacious,” said the president of GO Cedar Rapids, the tourism agency that put on the three-day festival the scale of which the city has never seen.

McCreight stayed visible over the weekend in hopes people would let him know what they liked or not after the speaker sessions or on the streets, he said. The “vast majority” were words of thanks, appreciation and somewhat unexpectedly kudos for how smoothly it ran, he said, particularly impressive considering the scale of the first-year undertaking.

“We built up a hell of a lot of momentum,” he said. “We started something special here, and we’d like to see it continue in some form of festival.”

With the first newbo evolve in the rearview mirrors, organizers and other officials called the event a success but stopped short Monday of saying they have the green light for year two.

On Monday, the process of breaking down from the festival began. The massive stage erected at the Sinclair levee was expected to be fully disassembled by the time the day ended, as were tents and trailers. Staff were moving boxes and supplies stashed around the city, he said.

“I’m so appreciative of my staff — we have 11 full-time — that they pulled this off,” he said. “I’m still trying to figure out how.”

McCreight said the event was not about numbers. But he and others certainly will be scrutinizing the budget estimated earlier this year in the $4 to $5 million range, as well as hotel stays, paid attendance and other aspects as they consider a second year and what it might look like if there is one.

It could be several weeks or months before those figures are compiled, he said.


McCreight said he is not yet sure which figures would be made public. As a nonprofit entity, GO Cedar Rapids is not obligated to release specific details about the event, even though about two thirds of the organization’s budget is public money funded through hotel-motel tax revenues awarded by the Cedar Rapids City Council.

The council also advanced GO Cedar Rapids $500,000 of its annual $1 million hotel-motel allotment for the event. GO Cedar Rapids agreed to repay the amount by Sept. 1 or forgo the amount from next year’s budget.

“At the end of the day, it’s about putting more eyeballs on Cedar Rapids; talking about, thinking about and ultimately visiting Cedar Rapids,” he said. “I defy anybody to say we didn’t do that.”

Among the immediate take-aways was how well the Sinclair levee site worked as a concert venue. At least 10,000 people were anticipated for Kelly Clarkson on Friday night and Maroon 5 on Saturday night. Parking — an initial focus area — also proved not to be an issue, he said.

“For a space never utilized in that way, to pull off an almost flawless three days with minimal issues is incredible,” he said.

Some aspects that will be studied further include the bifurcated nature of the festival — with half the events at the Cedar Rapids Convention Center and the other half in the New Bohemia District — along with ticket prices and the policy of restricting speaker sessions to full passholders only.

Mayor Brad Hart gave a positive assessment of the festival.

“First-time festivals, big festivals, don’t make money the first year,” he said. “We’ll see if they didn’t make money or if they didn’t break even, hopefully they didn’t lose too much. ... I have no idea financially if it was a success, but I think it did showcase our city and from all of the comments received from people who were there and performers, I think it was a success.”

City Manager Jeff Pomeranz attended several of the speaker sessions and the two headline concerts.

“It was bigger and better than what I contemplated,” he said of when the tourism bureau was charged with creating new signature events. “It was a great time in Cedar Rapids. I consider the event a success from the perspective of entertainment — first class entertainment — for the people of Iowa and from 29 states around the country ... It is something we haven’t seen before.”


Dale Todd, a City Council member whose district includes NewBo, graded the event as a B-plus, with high marks for entertainment, experience, talent and enthusiasm generated for the community but lower marks for logistics, crowd and traffic control.

Seeing thousands of people listening to music and dancing on festival grounds where Osborn Park once stood was a reminder of the progress the city has seen, he said.

“A beautiful byproduct of this exercise is we got to see how we can use some of these underutilized spaces,” he said. “It was a learning experience for everyone, including the city. ... We have to do these things if we want to grow and bring people into our community.”

NewBo business owners have given mixed reviews about the festival, with some citing poor sales and a smaller-than-advertised crowd.

However, Steph Jelinek, owner of Parlor City Pub & Eatery, on the corner of 12th Avenue and Third Street SE, said Saturday was the business’s top sales day ever.

She said she thinks for some businesses there were missed opportunities on how best to be involved. She also said she believes some people stayed away from the area because they thought it was too expensive, even though there were other free events.

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