Staff Editorial

Public has vested interest in GO Cedar Rapids' future

GO Cedar Rapids officials talk with reporters after a press conference in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. The organization had $2.3 million loss from its newbo evolve festival. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
GO Cedar Rapids officials talk with reporters after a press conference in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. The organization had $2.3 million loss from its newbo evolve festival. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Details remain in short supply as city leaders and other key stakeholders debate how and if GO Cedar Rapids can recoup losses and repay millions in accumulated debt from the newbo evolve festival.

“There’s too much speculation in this whole thing,” said Jim Haddad, hired in August as the organization’s interim director. “My job is to come in and put together a plan. We need to avoid speculation, and we need to deal in facts.”

We agree, and demand such facts be made public — especially if the path forward includes additional public resources, such as motel-hotel taxes.

City officials are withholding motel-hotel tax allocations from GO Cedar Rapids for the first and second quarter in order to repay a $500,000 advance given to the group to pay for musical acts at the three-day newbo evolve festival and a recreational zip line, which was not implemented. A stipulation of the advance was that GO Cedar Rapids would repay the money by Sept. 1, which it was unable to do.

The area tourism entity, which operates on an annual budget of roughly $2 million, suffered a $2.3 million loss on newbo evolve, including a $1.5 million bank loan and numerous unpaid vendors. Historically, public resources in the form of motel-hotel taxes have provided about half the organization’s operating budget because its mission was to bring more tourism dollars to the city.

That mission remains vital to Cedar Rapids and the metro area, even as outstanding obligations to future tourism events have been placed in jeopardy. Still, barring significant changes to GO Cedar Rapids’ governance and oversight and a detailed reckoning of newbo evolve, we find no justification for further public support.

The public has not yet learned, for instance, what percentage of vendor debts are held by local companies. Although board members indicated former a former executive and manager misrepresented festival expenditures and revenues, no civil or criminal charges have emerged, and no other organization leaders have been held accountable for lax oversight.

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Public support has waned, if not soured. Distrust grows each day bills go unpaid, damaging not only the organization’s reputation but that of its namesake city.

It’s difficult to imagine a time when the disinfecting sunlight of public scrutiny would be more welcome, or necessary.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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