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Iowa Meeting Guide: Cedar Rapids flooded with new venues

In June 2008, a swollen Cedar River consumed 10 square miles of Cedar Rapids.

“It really wiped out the downtown,” said Jennifer Pickar, director of communications for the Cedar Rapids Area CVB. “But we’ve been really aggressive in our rebuilding, and all of that is coming to fruition.”

For planners, the excitement is largely focused on a convention complex in the central business district of Iowa’s second-largest city.

The existing convention center, the U.S. Cellular Center, has not been expanded or reconfigured since it was built in 1979. “We’ve been unable to bid on larger conventions,” Pickar said.

The problem is being solved with a $100 million complex that will include a new convention facility, the renovated U.S. Cellular Center and a renovated hotel, all of which will be connected. Existing structures are closed until the project is complete  next summer.

When complete, the U.S. Cellular Center will have 129,400 square feet of renovated space with 6,900 fixed seats. The new meeting facility will offer 44,064 square feet of exhibit space, 13,030 square feet of ballroom space and 5,037 square feet of meeting space.

The attached 276-room Doubletree by Hilton will have 19,500 square feet of meeting space. Hilton Worldwide will manage the entire complex.

Another flood-related renovation and expansion is the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, which will open its new space in mid-July. The museum has significantly expanded.

Two new outdoor areas can each accommodate a 6,600-square-foot tent. The new 55-seat Hemphill Theater suits small presentations. Larger groups can leverage the new WFLA Heritage Hall. Museum tours are given during events for an additional fee.

Czech immigrants settled in Cedar Rapids in the mid-19th century; the city is also home to the Legion Arts’ CSPS Hall, a former Czech social hall that underwent a $7 million renovation in 2011. It has seven meeting rooms.

The flood also pummeled the Paramount Theatre. The restored theater, scheduled to reopen this fall, will be available for meetings and conferences and can accommodate 100 banquet guests. The theater seats 1,700.

A downtown riverfront amphitheater, part of an overall flood-management project, is scheduled to open in fall 2013.

By 2013, Cedar Rapids will be one “event-full” city. “It’s an exciting time to be here,” Pickar said.

319-398-5009, ext.126