U.S Cellular Center Opens Following Two-year Renovation

By Chelsea Keenan, Reporter

A crowd gathers in the lobby of the convention center during the opening of the U.S. Cellular Center and the DoubleTree by Hilton Cedar Rapids on Friday, May 31, 2013, in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Aaron Hepker

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - City of Cedar Rapids officials looked to the past and into the future Friday afternoon as they celebrated the re-opening of the U.S. Cellular Center.

"A lot of people think this started after the 2008 Flood, but the vision really started in the 1970s," said Mayor Ron Corbett. "When people wanted a vibrant downtown, anchored with a hotel, convention center and arena. It was a grand vision and a grand facility. But over time, the building lost its luster."

The new facility boasts an 9,600 seat arena lined with concessions stands, 267 hotel rooms, 81,779 square feet of exhibit space, 12,359 square feet of ballroom space and 19,383 square feet of meeting room space.

"This was a mammoth job," Corbett said.

The $144 million transformation makes the convention complex, complete with a DoubleTree by Hilton Cedar Rapids hotel, the second largest convention and events center in the state. The Iowa Events Center in Des Moines is the only one larger, but it does not include an attached hotel.

Leaders anticipate this will help draw in large groups to the city for events and conferences, who will then spend money at downtown shops and restaurants. Cedar Rapids Area Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Marilee Fowler said one dance group has decided to hold its annual event in Cedar Rapids every year until 2028.

"This facility started selling before the old one was even closed or demolished," she added.

Friday's grand opening also included a surprise dance performance by Movment Dance Company, self-guided tours of the facility and comments from John Frew, President and CEO of Frew Development Group, the developer behind the project. Frew noted that the complex was completed on time and on budget.

"The city had the vision, John (Frew) built it, now the people will come and we will take care of them when they do," said Matt Felling, general manager of the complex. Felling then told the crowd that a time capsule commemorating the day and event was placed inside a wall and covered with a plaque celebrating the occasion.

"So many years from now, our children or grandchildren can open up the time capsule and see what today was about," he said.

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