City of Cedar Rapids Finally Shows Off Look for Events Center

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

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By Richard Pratt

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The city of Cedar Rapids will take steps on Tuesday to agree on what a new $67-million dollar Events Center will look like.

The City Council is set on Tuesday to approve schematic drawings that show the details of the new exhibition space and a completely refurbished U.S. Cellular Center arena. Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett said the council could also begin discussions about possible project labor agreements for use in building what’s now called the Cedar Rapids Convention Complex.

At a news conference Monday, designers called the current 1970’s arena sort of “blah” looking on the outside. The redesign on display will certainly change that. Dan Thies, of OPN Architects, said designs went for a more dramatic look that will attract the attention of drivers on I-380. Those who approach the new facility from First Avenue S.E. will be able to look inside because the design calls for large amounts of glass facing the street. Both the arena and exhibition hall will share a truly grand three-story-tall entrance.

“Whether it’s a convention, wedding reception or concert—you walk into this facility, and I will tell you, it will be an inspiring moment,” Thies said.

Thies said the grand entrance planned in the new addition will be a big change from the current arena entrance which he called uninspiring. The Events Center plan will convert the current U.S. Cellular Center entrance and lobby into an expanded concourse—with food and other services. There is no room to add seats to the arena itself. But the renovation will upgrade all the facilities to more modern arena standards.

When it’s finished, the city’s convention and visitors bureau should have an easier time selling the facility to promoters and convention groups.

Marilee Fowler, Cedar Rapids Convention & Visitors Bureau President, said “between the arena and the Events Center is 68,000 square feet of space. We can bring in groups we have never been able to talk to before.”

Mayor Ron Corbett said the project should move Cedar Rapids into second place behind the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines both in size and ability to draw events. The city is projecting 375,000 people a year will use an expanded Events Center.

Corbett said he was particularly excited about the outside appearance of the center “because as people drive up and down First Avenue and up around I-380 they’re going to see a signature building this community can be very, very proud of.”

Demotion work to create the space needed for the project should begin in March of 2011. Actual construction work will probably start the following August.

Mayor Corbett said the city has not solved the ownership issue of the attached hotel. But the council may also discuss the possible use of eminent domain to force a sale at the council meeting Tuesday.

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