First things first: I care about Cedar Rapids.
I was born here. I was raised in the historic Moundview neighborhood. I purchased a home in the equally historic Oakhill Jackson neighborhood in 2012, just blocks from the NewBo District.
I say all of that because what follows is my disappointment with my hometown. Call it tough love or constructive criticism; either way, it’s critical.
I publicly voiced early reservations with newbo evolve: the city’s festival turned flop. It featured mundane pop acts. It lost $2.3 million. Vendors are still owed $800,000. Executives were fired. Board members pointed fingers. And the banally named GO Cedar Rapids ceased operations on Oct. 15.
How did this all go so wrong?
My opinion: because Cedar Rapids gets in its own way by running away from itself.
The chief executive of GO Cedar Rapids, Aaron McCreight, wasn’t from town. Neither was the “creative architect” behind newbo evolve, Scott Tallman. The planning of newbo evolve didn’t involve local business owners or knowledgeable citizens. GO Cedar Rapids and newbo evolve weren’t bold, original ideas. They were merely facsimiles of other organizations and other events from other cities. They were trying to be something else instead of just being themselves. That’s a recipe for dilution.
Cedar Rapids is a blue-collar town. Get within eye’s-view or nose’s-smell of the city and you’ll realize that. Its history is steeped in hard work and the Midwestern values that often get disregarded as cliché but are what helped this city rise from the waters of the 2008 flood.
Cedar Rapids is also a city of culture, art, and entertainment: Home to the African American Museum of Iowa, the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, intimate CSPS Hall, and dozens of unique stops, eats and shops.
We should leverage all of that to accurately and creatively reflect our community to the region. It doesn’t need to be all big-business interests or all Bohemian-focused principles. It should be a mixture of both, and that starts by involving people from the community. And by “people from the community,” I mean beyond and beneath corporate executives and Economic Alliance employees.
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With the city of Cedar Rapids saying it will now undertake the marketing, tourism and convention functions for the city, this is my open letter to city officials. My plea is fairly simple: let US be involved.
Yes, the US that includes local marketers, small-business owners, artists and knowledgeable citizens. Maybe even consider this novel approach: Create a tourism organization primarily comprised of local volunteers and part-time contributors who have a vested interest in the community and identifiable talents and ideas to contribute.
That’s an idea, and it’s just the start. Cedar Rapids has a lot to be proud of and a great story to tell. Now, let’s get people involved who can tell that story.
• Chad Cooper is a Cedar Rapids native and local marketing professional