Letter to the editor: Cedar Rapids, we can do better than GO Cedar Rapids and newbo evolve

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Screenshot of the GO Cedar Rapids website, grayscaled

By Chad Cooper, Cedar Rapids

First thing’s 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 Monday, 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. Even the name “GO Cedar Rapids” was devised by an out-of-state consultancy firm. 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, 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.

With the City of Cedar Rapids saying they 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.

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  1. I agree 100%! Everything word for word, exactly what I feel, have been thinking about this situation! – Thank you for writing this Mr. Cooper

  2. GO Cedar Rapids mounted municipal malpractice on our city. They stole from each and every citizen. $2.3 million dollars lost is staggering. The money stings, but they also stole our trust.

    One could call it hubris, Maybe there was ignorance, overconfidence or ineptitude to blame. One cannot say, however, that there wasn’t local volunteer involvement. GO Cedar Rapids had a volunteer board made up of 18 directors, including six who served on an executive committee that worked closely with leadership.

    Their goal was to have a mix of specialities such as legal, human resources, arts and culture, hotels, the business community, city representation and others. The local group that was put together did seem to fit that bill. Sometimes volunteer boards attract people looking only to fill a resume, without a willingness to roll up their sleeves and do the work required.

    It would behove us to examine how that group lost oversight of the process before there’s a push to create a second group of local volunteers. It may not be as simple as assuming that the hired guns from out of town were the entire problem. A huge gamble was made on a very risky venture. There’s been too much finger pointing since.

    Let’s take our time before another CVB or GO Cedar Rapids is formed. Oversight will have to begin from the top down. Mayor Hart and the City Council will need to build our trust slowly. The festival business can wait.

  3. Trying to appeal to tourists is bullshit. Just make your town a great place to live and let the others find it.

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