The city’s $67-million-plus Cedar Rapids Convention Complex with upgraded arena and new convention center will bring 375,000 more visitors and $22.8 million more in direct spending a year to Cedar Rapids than the city’s current “tired, worn out and less-than-inspiring” facilities now do, community leaders stressed on Monday.
At the same time, they said the exterior of the Convention Complex — what the city had been calling the Event Center — will be something of a work of art.
For those passing out front on First Avenue East, a clear glass concourse will stretch from next to The Roosevelt apartment building all along First Avenue to the east side of the Crowne Plaza Five Seasons Hotel.
For those passing on Interstate 380, the concrete exterior of the existing U.S. Cellular Center arena will be wrapped in a mesh screen of public art, which architect Dan Thies, president/CEO of OPN Architects Inc. of Cedar Rapids, says might, for instance, feature the faces of Cedar Rapidians.
At an afternoon news conference, Thies, whose firm has helped design the Convention Complex, said he could imagine such a display on the now bland exterior of the arena to prompt out-of-towners to say, “Have you seen the building in Cedar Rapids that has those faces on it?”
Mayor Ron Corbett called Monday’s news conference to update the community on the Convention Complex project while showing off the drawings of what the exterior of it will look like when it is open. The pretty drawings and the economic-impact hopes came with some other reminders:
— Corbett repeated Monday that the project budget will have to increase from $67 million, in part, because land acquisition and business relocation for the project will cost about $7 million and not the $3 million in the budget.
— At the same time, Corbett repeated on Monday that he will ask the City Council today to take a first step to use its power of eminent domain, if necessary, to force the current owner of the Crowne Plaza Five Seasons Hotel, creditor CWCapital LLC, to sell it to the city. Negotiations on the sale continue, but Corbett said seven to nine issues related to liability have prevented the city from agreeing to a purchase. The city thinks it is important to renovate the hotel along with the work on the Convention Complex attached to it.
— In addition, the opening of the Convention Complex has been pushed back from late 2012 to February 2013, Corbett reported, saying that acquiring land for the project has taken longer than expected.
The Convention Complex’s new convention facility and upgraded arena, OPN’s Thies said, will have one street-level entrance on First Avenue NE, where those entering the convention center can walk directly into that facility while others going to the arena will take an escalator up to a glass-walled concourse.
A piece of the west side of the arena, he added, will be removed during construction to allow the floor space of the convention center to extend into the arena. At the same time, he said the stage for arena events can sit farther to the west and allow for more seats in the arena to be sold.
After the news conference, Corbett noted that plans call for the existing second-floor lobby of the hotel to move to street level and the second and third floors of the hotel to become part of the arena concourse and convention facility. The 275-room hotel will lose about 20 rooms in the process, he said.
As for the project’s increased cost, Corbett said private contributions might help cover some of the additional cost as might the use of local-option sales tax revenue. The latter can be used to match federal disaster funds, and the mayor said that major funding for the project — a $35-million grant from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration and a $15-million grant from the state I-JOBS fund — was disaster-related funding.
The project calls for the demolition of everything in the block between First and A avenues NE and Second and Third streets NE except The Roosevelt apartment building. The hotel ballroom now over Third Street NE also will come down and Third Street NE will become part of the new building.
When complete, the new convention center and upgraded arena will add 126,458 square feet of exhibition space, ballrooms and meeting rooms to the existing facilities. The total of 291,063 square feet of space will rank the facility second in size in Iowa behind facilities in the city of Des Moines.
Marilee Fowler, executive director of the Cedar Rapids Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Monday that the 375,000 more visitors that will come to Cedar Rapids each year because of the new venue will spend an additional $22.8 million here a year with a total economic impact of $34 million a year.
In response to a question, Corbett said the city was not building “a Taj Mahal”, but “an important, signature project for our community.”
He pointed to the international horseshoe-pitching championship that recently came to Cedar Rapids, and he said most people in Cedar Rapids are happy that visitors like that come to the city and spend money here. The new facilities will help the city compete to attract more such events, he said.