Dothan's new tourism guru trying to bounce back from multi-million dollar fiasco

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Dothan (WTVY)-- The hiring of an executive director for the Dothan Convention and Visitor's Bureau could raise questions because his last job ended in disaster.

Visit Dothan Executive Director talks about failed festival, hopes for Dothan in a March 11, 2019 interview.

Before the Visit Dothan board employed Aaron McCreight, he headed a Cedar Rapids, Iowa tourist marketing organization that folded after an arts and music festival lost $2.3 million.

“Not enough folks came. We put on a great show and people who did come had a great time but, at the end of the day, there weren't enough sales to make (the festival) break even,” McCreight told WTVY.

Go Cedar Rapids failed to pay nearly a million dollars in debt, including payments to entertainers and vendors. It also defaulted on a $1.5 million bank loan.

Mayor Brad Hart and then Go Cedar Rapids Chairman John Myers accused McCreight of deceiving the board about ticket sales and sponsorship values. That's a claim McCreight denies.

In the event's first year, the Go Cedar Rapids board projected losses and budgeted $644,000 to cover them. Overall, the festival, called Newbo Evolve, had a budget of $3.8 million.

Though singers Kelly Clarkson and Maroon 5 headlined the three day event last August, it generated only $1.5 million.

The fallout not only cost McCreight his job, but the board also fired one of his assistants. In another casualty of the debacle, a city president of the bank that approved that $1.5 million loan that defaulted was ousted.

“We took a calculated risk that didn't work. At the end of the day it was up to me to answer for that and I did. It's not the first time an event failed and it won't be the last time,” said McCreight.

He bounced back quickly. Within days of losing his job, McCreight was on his way to Dothan where he interviewed for the vacant Visit Dothan executive director's job.

“I had an industry consultant call and tell me about Aaron,” recalls Visit Dothan Chairman Bill Durden. “We hit it off first interview. (He's) experienced not only in the tourism industry but also has a sports background.”

The board had reviewed nearly 100 applications over the past several months but none possessed McCreight's qualifications, Durden said
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He believes, in Iowa, McCreight became a scapegoat. “The city, Go Cedar Rapids, and downtown were all on board (with the festival). It was not just one, two or three people, it was a multitude of people and organIzations but a few people's heads had to roll and we feel like their loss is Dothan's gain,” Durden said.

Ready to put Cedar Rapids behind him, McCreight is happy to be back in Alabama where he lived several years ago.

“I'm blessed to have found a great destination, a great board, great staff, at the right time. Dothan is ready to take off.”

McCreight, before taking the Iowa job, worked to improve tourism in Casper, Wyoming for seven years with no apparent issues. He also owned a summer college baseball team there.