CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — After operating through a schedule with more than 60 events in the past 12 months, the U.S. Cellular Center still has the hum of activity where no paying customers push through the turnstiles.
“Sixty events but that doesn’t necessarily mean 60 event days,” said Sharon Cummins, executive director of the USCC arena in downtown Cedar Rapids. “With our Titans football (tomorrow night), they come in and practice (today), set up with lots of activities around that particular event.”
This particular Thursday features the indoor artificial turf for the Cedar Rapids Titans, ready for Friday night’s game. The arena has seen concerts, ice rinks, circuses, trucks spinning through dirt, state volleyball tournaments and even Barry Manilow.
The tally from the arena, which reopened in late May 2013 after a two-year renovation, holds a figure of more than 300,000 “patrons in the venue”, according to data the arena supplied to KCRG-TV9 on Thursday.
Cummins said the USCC competes with buildings in Peoria, Ill. and Lincoln, Neb., featuring similar-sized arena and market demographics. She stressed having an attached hotel, the DoubleTree by Hilton, which also reopened last spring after a major renovation, is a significant asset.
“Our Thursday through Saturday events, people are in the (area) early, going out to dinner, staying for the show, staying for the hotel and really helping that economic impact this building was intended for.”
The most lucrative event for the arena, and the surrounding businesses, just may be one that shows up every year at the same time.
The girls’ state volleyball tournament.
The tournament returned to the USCC in November 2013 and the five-day event had a recorded attendance of 27,789, by far the largest event attendance for this first year back. Nearly 80% of the teams in the tournament were from schools at least 40 miles from Cedar Rapids.
“People started arriving early Monday and they stay in the market all week,” said Cummins.
The top five attendance events from May 2013 to present.
— Girls State Volleyball Tournament: 27,789 (five days)
— Disney On Ice — 13,300
— Ringling Bros. — 12,300
— Cirque du Soleil — 9,327
— Monster Jam — 9,088
For concerts with only a single performance, arena officials listed Florida Georgia Line (6,500) and Lady Antebellum (6,000) as “sell outs”. The Lady Antebellum concert on June 1, 2013 was the arena’s first major event since the doors opened again.
Just steps from the arena’s front door, however, the constant buzz of construction fills the air. First Avenue SE, across from Theatre Cedar Rapids, has construction and sidewalks made of plywood, still part of the rebuilding of downtown Cedar Rapids, now six years since the Flood of 2008.
How much of the arena’s success is spilling over to the bars and restaurants a block away, on Second Avenue SE? This can be more difficult to measure in the summer months, as the warm weather in Cedar Rapids leads to more foot traffic and more filled bar stools.
“Whenever they have concerts over there, we see a ton of people,” said Kirby Patten, who is launching his second bar on Second Avenue, the Rock Bar. “I definitely think Second Avenue is the strip people walk down when they do bar crawls. It’s the main location.”
Cummins acknowledged there are situations where the USCC has to battle against larger venues in Des Moines or the Quad Cities for a particular act.
“We may often be the right market for that artist to play but if they’re looking for the number of seats, we may lose that artist.”
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