by Frances Edstrom
Think of "Music Man." Slick flim-flam man comes into town, intent upon taking the rubes in Iowa for everything they've got, then lams out of town with the money that the good townspeople thought was a down payment on musical instruments for their kids. But, this is a musical comedy, and Harold Hill falls for the gorgeous librarian and her adorable little boy. He suddenly becomes a swell fellow who really does deliver the new band uniforms and instruments to the town kids, who have actually learned to play by the fraudulent "think system." Happy ending, good triumphs over evil.
Meredith Wilson must have lived in a town like Winona and noticed that no matter how many times someone comes around to sell some pie in the sky scheme, only to lam out with or without the dough, the good people of Winona never seem to learn. There is just something irresistible to a small town about out-of-towners with big plans.
Now that Tom "Grand Excursion Man" Grimm has left Winona, we wonder if there is a happy ending lurking out there somewhere. In the time that Grimm has been heading the Grand Excursion plans for Winona, there has been precious little that the townspeople have heard about how plans are coming for the summer celebration. What has been accomplished has either been kept within a very tight circle or, heavens forbid, not happened at all.
Grimm told the media up front that he was not going to be trying to raise money locally, but rather, through national sponsorships. Unfortunately, it didn't quite happen that way. The rather meager sums that we have heard about are local dollars, the largest amount coming from the city of Winona. So far, neither Grimm nor the committee have told anyone what the money has been spent on.
It is time for the Grand Excursion 2004 committee to be more public about their plans. Other event planners in Winona beat down the doors of the local media trying to get coverage for their events, hoping that the hype will get a buzz going that will attract funding and attendance. To have a supposedly major event of this nature planned in relative secrecy, especially when it is being done with public funds and with the help of publicly funded entities such as the Convention and Visitors Bureau, is highly unusual.
Let's see an accounting of the funds collected, funds expended, and events we can look forward to. Other communities up and down the river take great pride in the fact that their Grand Excursion planning is involving nearly everyone in town. In Winona, the planning has been done in relative secrecy by a select few. Which communities do you think will have the most successful events?
The Mayor and City Council need to retake the reins of this event and make sure we are getting a return on our dollars, and will actually have an event that will do what Grand Excursion is supposedly all about: attracting tourism and development in Winona that will leave real money here and help Winona to become more than just another location for a Super Wal-Mart.