Government

Agreement envisions new 'Cedar Rapids Tourism Office'

City Council scheduled to vote Tuesday on new deal with VenuWorks

A week after tourism bureau GO Cedar Rapids shuttered after incurring a $2.3 million loss on its Aug. 3-5
A week after tourism bureau GO Cedar Rapids shuttered after incurring a $2.3 million loss on its Aug. 3-5 "newbo evolve" festival, the Cedar Rapids City Council is scheduled to vote on a new deal with VenuWorks. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The city of Cedar Rapids would pay the VenuWorks management company $6,000 a month over the next year to continue marketing the area and drawing visitors through conventions, events and sports, a plan from city staff proposes.

This comes a week after tourism bureau GO Cedar Rapids shuttered after incurring a $2.3 million loss on its Aug. 3-5 “newbo evolve” festival. Two top employees of the agency were fired.

The proposed agreement between the city and VenuWorks would be retroactive to Oct. 15 — the day GO Cedar Rapids folded — and continue until Oct. 14, 2019.

The city would direct the remaining $545,000 in uncommitted hotel-motel tax money to support a newly formed Cedar Rapids Tourism Office through the end of the fiscal year on June 30, though it was unclear from documents whether that amount also would cover the monthly management fee. A hotel-motel tax plan for the remaining four months is not addressed.

The proposals come as separate resolutions on Tuesday’s City Council agenda. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. on the third floor of City Hall, 101 First St. SE.

No public hearing is scheduled for either item, but the public can sign up at the meeting to speak for up to five minutes during one of two comment periods. The first period is reserved for comments on agenda items, while the second is for general comments about city business.

VenuWorks already is contracted to book events for city-owned performance venues including the U.S. Cellular Center, Paramount Theatre, McGrath Amphitheatre and the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. The company operates out of the city-owned DoubleTree Hotel-Convention Center complex.

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Former GO Cedar Rapids employees could be interviewed by VenuWorks to continue in their positions for a 90- day evaluation period, after which they could continue on the job pending adequate performance.

GO Cedar Rapids, which had offices on the corner of Second Street and Second Avenue SE, had about 10 employees when it shut down.

Among the key terms of the agreement:

l The contract could be extended subject to mutual agreement.

l VenuWorks would direct marketing and promotional activities for the city.

l VenuWorks would work to schedule conventions, sports events, meetings and entertainment events designed to bring visitors to Cedar Rapids.

l VenuWorks would be responsible for supervision and direction of all personnel. Tourism office staff would become VenuWorks employees, at least initially.

l The city would have unlimited access to accounting records and supporting documentation related to tourism services.

Cedar Rapids had been allocating $1 million per year in hotel-motel tax money to GO Cedar Rapids, which covered half of its $2 million annual budget. GO Cedar Rapids also had been collecting other revenue.

In addition to the guest tax, several hotels collected a $2 per-room per night fee from customers and remitted it to GO Cedar Rapids for promotional efforts. Some hotels said they stopped collecting the fee when the bureau closed, while others said they are still collecting but holding on to it until plans solidify.

A number of local businesses also recently paid membership dues to GO Cedar Rapids, and helped sponsor its magazines. Additionally, the Iowa Economic Development Authority in August named GO Cedar Rapids a “regional sports authority district,” which came with a grant worth up to $50,000.

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Questions of what will become of the membership dues and grant money are not specifically addressed in the management agreement.

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

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