In an accidental leak on social media, Uptown Columbus, Inc. admitted that their tourism-centric efforts for the upcoming kayak world cup will not break-even financially for the organization but are instead expected to produce a financial loss.
The leak brings into question the long-standing optimism and operational effectiveness expressed by the organization and others like it over the course of years.
The organization let the information slip late in the evening on September 6, 2022, while attempting to downplay a photo series recently published by the Muckraker which provided photo evidence of piles of dumped trash, vandalism, graffiti, and other criminal damage caused to the Riverwalk and the Dragonfly Trail Network.
The general messaging put out for years by many public organizations, including the city government itself, has led the public to largely believe that the Kayak event was to be a large success for the city’s tourism efforts. The Uptown employee’s leaked comment appears to contradict all of that optimistic publicity, revealing the true financial woes of the decade-long effort.
In an article published by SportsTravel Magazine on June 18, 2021, Helena Coates, the chairwoman of Uptown Columbus, Inc.’s board of directors at the time, provided comment on the upcoming kayak event, saying:
“We are thrilled to bring this Olympic caliber event to the area. It is a great honor to be selected by the International Canoe Federation to host these prestigious events and serves as the capstone of an eighteen-month effort by local leaders to bring the competitions here.”
However, at the time of Coates’ comment on June 18, 2021, her organization had just filed a financial loss with the IRS. In fact, the organization has filed a combined net loss of nearly $2.8 million dollars from 2014 to 2021. The continuous revenue losses bring into question the fiscal efficiency of the organization and its operations, despite its optimistic messaging and altruistic dedication to the public good.
The leaked comment from the Uptown employee revealed the organization expects the kayak event to add to its growing deficit.
Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson also provided comment on the kayak event’s anticipated financial impacts in the same article by SportsTravel Magazine, leading the public to long believe the Uptown-oriented event was already bringing economic development to the city. Henderson appeared to brag about the success of the whitewater course, despite the many years of financial losses reported by Uptown Columbus, Inc.
“I don’t think we can fully comprehend how big this is,” said Henderson in 2021. “To have the world cup and the world championships here for two years in a row — yes it’s going to bring economic development. (…) But we are already the site of the longest urban-setting whitewater rapids in the world. Can you imagine how that notoriety is going to grow as the world tunes in to see some of the most talented competitors you’ve ever seen, right here in Columbus, Georgia?”
The recently-leaked comment from Uptown stating the event is projected to be a financial loss appears to contradict the Mayor’s optimism entirely.
Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe also provided comment in the SportTravel Magazine article.
“Attracting an international sporting event that will generate 11 days of world-wide attention on Phenix City and Columbus is a huge feather in our cap,” said Lowe in 2021. “We plan to leverage these events to gain a competitive advantage in our economic development efforts to attract and retain more businesses and talented people to the region.”
Lowe’s comments from across the River ironically also come at a time of economic turmoil for Phenix City, as its democrat-majority city council recently voted to raise their sales tax, forcing the public to make up for the city’s financial losses. The city is now the fifth-highest sales tax jurisdiction in the nation. Phenix city has also decreased its net position by a whopping 26% from 2013 to 2020, when adjusted for inflation.
With such a large world-renowned event, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume the city and public organizations within it may have seen the opportunity to downplay the real financial losses already experienced, hoping the upcoming world-renowned kayak event would be enough to overshadow and conceal them in the public eye. However, the Uptown employee’s leaked comments now reveal that the organization itself knows of the financial burden the kayak event will truly be, appearing to be misleading the public in the process.
Doing “amazing” means, by definition, being above-average. If Columbus wants to use that slogan, the public seems to believe the city’s actions should earn it. The Muckraker will continue to report on the evidential shortcomings that miss the mark of that slogan without paying favor to the nepotistic culture that appears to often facilitate it.
If we intend to solve problems, we must first measure them — and to measure them, we must first admit that they exist.
Columbus residents can voice their opinions of how public/private partners with large political influence —such as Uptown Columbus, Inc. — appear to be misleading the public in the effectiveness of their operations by contacting their city council members through the city’s website here.