CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids City Council gave the green light Tuesday to a $200,000 bid fee in hopes of landing a four- to six week roller sports championship event officials say could generate $10 million in direct spending throughout the city.
The Cedar Rapids Tourism Office is bidding for the USA Roller Sports Indoor Speed, Figure Skating and Rink Hockey National Championships, which if the city is selected as a location would take place at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena in July and August 2020.
“Apparently we’ve looked at this a couple of times in the past,” said Mike Silva, head of VenuWorks, which oversees the tourism office. “It’s just the right time and right place for this. It is a much bigger bid fee ... but the caveat is we do not pay the bid fee if we don’t get the event.”
The council approved the use of hotel-motel tax revenue to pay the bid, if Cedar Rapids gets the championship.
Silva and Casey Drew, the Cedar Rapids finance director, also appeared before council to give an update on the tourism office. The roller championship bid was one of the items highlighted.
The tourism office was hastily set up in October after the former convention and tourism bureau GO Cedar Rapids folded.
The organization had fired the former executive director and community events director after losing $2.3 million on a 2018 summer festival called “newbo evolve” and folded owing $800,000 to vendors. No public disclosure or audit was conducted to determine what happened to the money, despite the city being the primary sponsor — awarding GO CR $1 million annually in hotel-motel tax money.
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VenuWorks, which already was contracted by the city to book events at city-owned entertainment spaces, agreed to take on the tourism operation for up to 18 months.
“We had two goals — continue to book events to Cedar Rapids in this interim as we decide what we do long-term as a community, and to also for the events we did book make sure we have some impact on direct spending that will have an impact on all of the community of Cedar Rapids,” Drew said.
GO Cedar Rapids had been pursuing events much smaller than the roller championship, typically one- or two-week events with bid fees of under $25,000, Silva said. However, the roller championship is a “proven event” with a 60-year history, including 30 years in Lincoln, Neb.
He said the staff closely reviewed data from Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau showing the event had been drawing 10,000 hotel room nights with average stays of five to eight nights and “upward of $10 million in direct spending.”
At least two other Midwestern cities are competing, he said.
The tourism office is staffed by five employees who came from GO Cedar Rapids. They are based in the Cedar Rapids Convention Center attached to the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, and are expected to be moved to a more visible location on the first floor.
Since October, the office has honored previously booked events and conventions, signed new meetings and events estimated to bring $430,000 in direct spending to Cedar Rapids with another $1 million in the pipeline, signed an agreement to be the exclusive housing provider for Prospect Meadows ball field complex for the next year, honored commitments to dues-paying members and had 13 hotels continue with a destination marketing fee program.
“It is remarkable what you have accomplished especially from where you had to start,” Mayor Brad Hart said.