Letter to the editor: Cedar Rapids’ cult of banality

An aerial image of the newbo evolve concert venue in Cedar Rapids. — courtesy of newbo evolve

By Chad Cooper, Cedar Rapids

Insanity occurred in the council chambers of Cedar Rapids City Hall Tuesday night.

Less than two weeks removed from the dissolution of tourism organization GO Cedar Rapids after the newbo evolve debacle, city council members voted to let VenuWorks take over tourism duties for the city.

VenuWorks is an out-of-city company based in Ames [already serving three Cedar Rapids venues: the U.S. Cellular Center, Paramount Theatre and McGrath Ampitheatre]. Cedar Rapids will give them money it would have given GO Cedar Rapids. VenuWorks has already hired some former GO Cedar Rapids employees. Council members voted to allocate $545,000 to Venuworks through the hotel-motel tax.

Is anyone else’s eye starting to twitch?

Let me recap: In the wake of a failed festival engineered by a now-defunct organization that received public funds and was run by out-of-city executives, Cedar Rapids is choosing to give more money to an out-of-city company, partly comprised of employees from the now-defunct organization.

I’m beginning to feel nauseous.

The need to maintain tourism and promotion is understandable, but making this decision with little to no public input eerily resembles what got us in this mess to begin with. And as much as I hate to see individuals lose jobs, one has to question the rationale of continuing to employ people who worked for an organization that ultimately proved inept at promoting the city or organizing a marquee event.

So why does it continue to happen?

I think the answer lies in statements made by some council members. They said they had high hopes for newbo evolve, but were let down.

High hopes? Why? Many citizens saw troubling signs as soon as newbo evolve was announced. I publicly voiced my concerns weeks before the event, then offered solutions for preventing it from happening again. I’ve heard from many citizens since the publication of those columns, but not one city official has reached out. Maybe they just didn’t see the articles. Or, maybe it’s something else…

See, a weird thing seems to happen in this town: city officials get wooed and ultimately bamboozled by fast talkers and marketing hucksters. The kind of people who think if you say something enough it must be true. The sort of individuals who call themselves “creative architects.” The type who think if you squint hard enough, a slipshod festival becomes South by Southwest and Maroon 5 begins to look like a band with artistic merit.

My point: as long as city officials allow themselves to get fooled, we’ll all continue to look foolish.

Council members did say they don’t see this as a permanent situation. The contract with VenuWorks is for one year, with the hope (!) that a new convention and visitors organization will then take over. I guess this is all supposed to be a Band-Aid, but when it comes to this city’s decision makers, I think a colonoscopy is more in order.

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