CEDAR RAPIDS — A former GO Cedar Rapids executive said Tuesday he warned a higher up that the summer’s “newbo evolve” festival was “severely flawed” and doomed to fail, but his warnings were ignored.
Taylor McGurk, former director of destination development for the tourism agency, said in a lengthy public Facebook post that he pushed back from the beginning on then-Chief Executive Officer Aaron McCreight and later urged “wholesale changes to the model” — to no avail.
“Newbo evolve was an epically tone-deaf vision of a delusional human being that did not possess the skills nor was provided the leadership necessary to execute anything other than the disaster that it was,” McGurk wrote, providing the first detailed account from within the organization that red flags were raised from the start.
“Although the intentions and the why behind creating the festival were pure, everything else was severely flawed. The leadership, the model, the pricing, the programming, the planning process … not a single component was done competently. It took this complete systemic incompetence to lose $2.3 million,” he wrote.
McGurk, who according to his LinkedIn profile worked for the nonprofit since September 2015, laid the blame for the festival — although not by name — squarely on McCreight and community events director Scott Tallman, the creative visionary behind the festival.
“There really isn’t any greater conspiracy beyond that,” McGurk wrote.
When contacted by The Gazette, McGurk declined to comment beyond his Facebook post. McCreight and Tallman, who each was fired in the days after the event, did not return messages seeking comment.
McGurk was particularly critical of Tallman.
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“I’m terrified that we’ve given the event director $5 (million) and the controls to our organization,” McGurk said he told McCreight.
In the run up to the festival, McCreight told The Gazette the budget for the event was $4 to $5 million. Meeting minutes released later show the budget was scaled back to $3.8 million.
In his post, McGurk provided text from messages he said he sent to McCreight in early February in the days after newbo evolve was announced. According to the account, he warned about Tallman, explained why sticker shock over $375 three-day passes was warranted and urged beefing up the musical lineup because the market was not interested in the “mediocre” celebrity speaker sessions that were part of the weekend offerings.
He said McCreight never responded by phone, text or email. Whenever they spoke directly, McGurk said, McCreight dismissed his pleas saying the same three things: ticket sales were strong; the “budget pencils;” and ongoing cash flow issues were because ticket sale revenue was not available until after the event.
Budget information was “kept under lock and key,” McGurk wrote, so he nor anyone else on staff had a way to cross-check what they were being told. The organization had about 10 staff members, including Tallman and McCreight.
“I’m not positive as to whether all that I was told was an ongoing deliberate lie or an unrealistic projections and mismanaged budget combo,” McGurk wrote.
In the post, he touted the strides made by GO Cedar Rapids outside of “newbo evolve,” urged the void of the agency’s promotional role be filled for the sake of the city and apologized to the unpaid festival vendors, some of whom he recruited. He noted he had “thousands of evolve expense dollars on my personal credit card.”
He also defended the role of the city government, which helped fund GO Cedar Rapids with public money and had representation on the agency’s board.
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GO Cedar Rapids and McCreight until that point had a strong track record, he said, and it wasn’t the city’s role to prevent the event from happening — and wouldn’t have cause to do so anyway, he wrote.
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