Eastern Iowa has an energy to it, thanks to Cedar Rapids.
This centrally located Midwestern city bisected by the Cedar River is a surprisingly lively epicenter of culture and entertainment. It features an appealing collection of museums, historic neighborhoods and a buzzing culinary scene to entertain travelers and locals alike. It’s also proven its commitment to innovation, industry and sustainability time and time again. Its reimagined and renovated spaces, including a brand-new convention center, have allowed it to gain a foothold in the meetings industry in recent years.
Cedar Rapids will host the 2023 Small Market Meetings Conference, September 27–29, to show off its newest facilities and its most classic attractions. Planners will get to explore the city’s exciting array of amenities, lodging options and intriguing off-site venues sure to wow their attendees at the upcoming conference.
Cedar Rapids was founded in 1849 as a milling town. Within the first decade, a large number of Czechoslovakian immigrants had settled there because of cheap land and job opportunities. Today, Cedar Rapids has more residents of Czech ancestry than any other place in the world besides Prague, and the city has found many ways to pay homage to its cultural roots. It’s home to the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, a Smithsonian affiliate that explores the Czechoslovakian heritage in Cedar Rapids and the U.S., and Czech Village, a neighborhood on 16th Street historically populated by mostly Czech immigrants.
Czech Village and another historic neighborhood, New Bohemia, combine to form the District, a region known as a local hub for shopping, culture and dining in Cedar Rapids. This vibrant area is walkable from downtown and is home to numerous antique shops, bookstores, vintage stores, plant shops and boutiques for attendees to explore in their downtime. It also has a wide variety of restaurants, breweries and sweet shops to help attendees refuel after a long day of exploring the city.
Cedar Rapids is a city still heavily influenced by its industries. It’s one of the top manufacturing regions in the U.S. and is home to several large manufacturing plants like Quaker Oats and General Mills. It’s also the second largest producer of wind energy, meaning it’s more than willing to embrace innovative new technologies and industries. Another one of the most important industries in Cedar Rapids is the tourism industry, demonstrated by the numerous new projects designed to revamp the city and inspire excitement.
Julie Stow, associate executive director at Cedar Rapids Tourism, said one of the biggest draws of Cedar Rapids is its friendly and helpful people.
“You come and you need your meeting space and activities, but it’s really about the human interaction,” she said. “I’m so proud to be in a community that is warm and welcoming and provides great service to its visitors.”
Major Meeting Venues
The Cedar Rapids Convention Complex is the newest convention center in Iowa and comes with 80,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space and an arena that seats 9,600. It features a sleek, contemporary design with floor-to-ceiling glass that lets in natural light and views of downtown Cedar Rapids. Its exhibit hall totals just over 28,000 square feet, while its grand ballroom has over 12,000 square feet of space and can seat 600 for a banquet. Another exciting feature of the new convention complex is the attached DoubleTree by Hilton, the newly renovated 267-room hotel. In addition to its updated, comfortable rooms, the DoubleTree also features a restaurant and a lounge on the tower’s top floor with spectacular views of the city and Cedar River. One of the best features of the complex is how comprehensive it is when it comes to planning.
“You only work with one sales department for the whole complex,” Stow said. “From food and beverage to hotel rooms to meeting space, it’s just one group.”
Cedar Rapids is also home to several other full-service conference hotels, such as the Cedar Rapids Marriott, the Hilton Garden Inn Cedar Rapids, and the Hampton Inn and Suites Cedar Rapids North. The Hotel at Kirkwood is a stylish boutique hotel and the city’s only AAA Four Diamond property. It has 71 rooms and is connected to the hospitality and culinary arts program at Kirkwood Community College. The Hotel at Kirkwood Center features 19,000 square feet of meeting space and offers a range of culinary-based amenities, from in-house catering to culinary team-building exercises, such as preparing a multicourse meal together.
“The beauty is while you’re staying there or having a meeting or experiencing the restaurant, you’ll connect with students who are passionate about learning about the industry,” Stow said.
In addition to its hotels and convention center, Cedar Rapids has a variety of unique local venues that will align with the theme of any meeting.
The Indian Creek Nature Center, a nature preserve with five miles of hiking trails and multiple ecosystems, offers several classrooms, an outdoor amphitheater, an auditorium and an exhibit hall in its headquarters. This stylish and sustainable venue effortlessly blends modern convenience with nature by leaning into wood, stone and plant accents throughout with lots of natural light. Stow said the building, which is equipped with solar panels, is “one of only a few living buildings, which is the highest level of sustainability.”
Several museums in Cedar Rapids make excellent hosts for events, including the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library. This colorful, elegant venue offers both indoor and outdoor venue space. Its Heritage Hall can seat 200 for a banquet or be divided into smaller rooms, while the Rozek Grand Hall can accommodate 100 banquet-style. The museum also has a 51-seat theater and a terrace perfect for receptions. Planners can choose from a list of preferred caterers for their events.
For a beautiful, countryside vineyard backdrop, planners can hold their events just outside the city at Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery. This family-owned winery and distillery produces award-winning wines and was named 2017 Distiller of the Year by the American Distilling Institute. It has three distinct spaces for events of different sizes, from an event center that can seat 200 to a vineyard room that can seat 40.
Cedar Rapids has several historic venues, such as the Paramount Theatre, which was recently renovated, preserving the grandeur of its ornate architecture and classic red and gold decor. It offers 1,700 seats and space for up to 100 for a banquet. The Brucemore Mansion, another historic property, is a beautiful, Queen Anne-style mansion from the 19th century. This mansion is set on 26 manicured acres and includes both indoor and outdoor event spaces, from smaller meeting rooms seating 10 to the First Avenue Lawn, which has accommodated as many as 20,000 visitors.
One of the most memorable venues for events is Prairie Patch Farm, a nature preserve and wildlife refuge just outside Cedar Rapids that allows attendees to interact with llamas. From llama hikes to llama yoga, the activities at Prairie Patch Farm are friendly additions to any event. The farm’s barn can be rented for events or meetings of about 40 people, but the llamas can also be booked for off-site events in Cedar Rapids.
After hours, attendees have no shortage of ways to keep busy. Cedar Rapids offers plenty of opportunities to shop, try local cuisine and learn about the city’s cultural heritage.
Many of these opportunities can be found in The District. For a culinary experience they won’t soon forget, attendees can head to Newbo City Market, a public market that functions as both a collection of restaurants and a business incubator. The market allows small-business owners looking to jump-start their ideas and dip their toe into the restaurant business. In the process, visitors to the market enjoy an ever-changing blend of cultural cuisine and new culinary ideas. They can also check out Lion Bridge Brewing Company to try their assortment of craft beers and elevated pub food. For something sweet, attendees can enjoy an ice cream sundae at Sweet Mercantile Soda Fountain and Candy Shop in Czech Village.
“Folks are also surprised by our culinary scene,” Stow said. “We are home to several James Beard-nominated chefs. Sixty-two percent of all restaurants in Cedar Rapids are locally owned and operated.”
Outside of The District, another dining option is the upscale, James Beard 2015 finalist, Cobble Hill Eatery and Dispensary, which serves creative dishes and cocktails with many locally sourced ingredients. Attendees will find a laid-back atmosphere, handmade pizzas, craft beer and classic arcade games at the Quarter Barrel Arcade and Brewery.
The arts scene in Cedar Rapids is impressive. The city features many works of public art, such as murals and sculptures, and even offers a self-guided public art tour for visitors to follow.
Attendees can visit the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, which features 7,200 works of art, including pieces by Grant Wood, who painted the famous “American Gothic” and was a Cedar Rapids resident for much of his life.