CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – In the decades since the arena now known as the U.S. Cellular Center opened in downtown Cedar Rapids, the roof has rattled with high decibels, whether rock music, cheers of a sporting match or the rumbles of monster trucks.
Yet now the constant ramble of cranes and heavy machinery fill the dusty air inside the arena as the months are peeling away until opening day.
"Many people are going to believe it's brand new because, for most intents and purposes, it is brand new," said Steven Bauer of Frew Development Group during a site tour on Thursday of the complex. He pointed out the new arena seats already in place, wider and brighter concession areas and the upcoming installation of video boards. Bauer also said most of the system work has been completed.
As the vice president of construction manager, Bauer has been in town for 11 months. Now he and the workers have 18 weeks left until the June 1 deadline for the project, estimated by the city to cost $145.2 million. The city of Cedar Rapids is covering $88.4 million of that, about 61% of the cost.
As Bauer guided reporters through the new convention center, just off First Avenue NE, dozens of construction workers went about their daily motions of incremental progress.
"It's actually a very well-orchestrated ballet and construction, just like many types of trades, relies on sequence," said Bauer.
After seeing so much activity in 2011, including the closing of the Crowne Plaza hotel and the dramatic implosion of the First Avenue Parkade, Bauer said the buzz over the project has faded in recent months.
"Even though you don't see it from the street side, there's an awful lot of construction."
But will this bring an awful lot of visitors?
A handful of groups have already signed up for the fall of 2013 and the Iowa girls' state high school volleyball tournament will also return downtown in November after two years at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
Marilee Fowler of the Cedar Rapids Area Convention & Visitors Bureau hopes the new facility leads to groups agreeing to bring their people and their money to Cedar Rapids.
"Through the hotel and motel tax, we have extra resources to advertise and promote this facility and we hope this will enhance what we're already doing to give exposure to groups that had not considered us before," said Fowler.