The end came with more a whimper than a bang but, in the end, the city found itself without a tourism promotion organization. Go Cedar Rapids (formerly the Cedar Rapids CVB, until it rebranded in 2016), which had served that function, was gone. Its nine remaining employees were without a job; this followed the firing of the DMO’s president Aaron McCreight.
McCreight, came to Cedar Rapids in in 2015 from his post as CEO of the Casper, Wyo., CVB. He also owned the Casper Cutthroats minor league baseball team and, as such, had some experience with organizing special events.
Then came a Go Cedar Rapids event, the August 3-5 “newbo evolve” music and cultural festival event that was long on talent—it attracted such performers as Kelly Clarkson and Maroon 5, as well as other filmmaker John Waters—but short of the number of paid admissions needed to make it viable. The three-day event lost $2.3 million. Go Cedar Rapids spent $3.8 million on the festival, only making up about $1.5 million through ticket sales. It seems that far fewer people than expected purchased expensive 3-day VIP passes, and there were several thousand complimentary tickets handed out.
Also gone following the festival debacle, according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, which has covered the story closely, is Pat Deignan, the former Cedar Rapids market president of Des Moines-based Bankers Trust, which explained in a statement that Deignan was “no longer with Bankers Trust” and added that it would not share any more information on the parting of ways. The statement didn’t say whether Deignan was fired or if he resigned. The Gazette had reported that Deignan was directly involved in the bank’s decision to extend a $1.5 million line of credit to Go Cedar Rapids, the city’s convention and visitor bureau, to help bankroll newbo evolve.
In the end, the bottom line showed that the organization was deeply in the red because of newbo evolve— $300,000 more than the organization’s $2 million annual budget, which was too much to overcome, GO Cedar Rapids interim chief executive officer Jim Haddad, told an Oct. 12 news conference. Vendors are owed $800,000 and apparently won’t be paid.
As reported by the Gazette, which has followed the matter closely, Haddad, a former Yellowbook USA executive and financial consultant, tried to lead GO Cedar Rapids out of the debt it accumulated during festival. But the challenge was just too much. “Everybody put forth their best effort to make this work. That’s little solace to our employees, little solace to the vendors who don’t get paid, but I can assure people we tried everything we possibly could,” he said.
As a legal entity, the GO Cedar Rapids will still exist, but will become a dormant nonprofit and cease activities, he said. The entity was established in 1982 as the Cedar Rapids Convention and Visitors Bureau and rebranded as GO Cedar Rapids in 2016.
The city of Cedar Rapids will temporarily take over the marketing role for tourism, conventions, meetings, sports tournaments and special events. The city’s initiative is expected to continue 12 to 18 months on a transitional basis. Operations will be managed by VenuWorks, which books acts for a number of facilities in Iowa. The effort will be funded using the $500,000 in hotel-motel tax proceeds that would have gone to Go Cedar Rapids.