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Iowa Meeting Guide: Des Moines revives landmark

Courtesy Greater Des Moines CVB

In 1954, when construction began on the Veterans Memorial Auditorium, residents in Des Moines celebrated what would become one of the country’s largest arenas and exhibit halls. The “Vets” competed with venues in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, but as years passed, newer venues began to erode its popularity.

“Since the Wells Fargo Arena opened here in Des Moines in 2005, touring shows were going to it rather than [to] Vets,” said Adam Flack, director of marketing for the Iowa Events Center, which encompasses Vets and the new arena.

The popularity of the Wells Fargo Arena and the fact that the city needed more meeting space moved the city to turn Vets into meeting space and, at the same time, preserve the landmark.

During the $42.3 million renovation, Vets’ interior was demolished as the bulding became the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center at Veterans Memorial.

The original exterior remains, except for the windows on the east side, which are new. “They add natural light and cut down on energy use,” Flack said.

The Vets’ redesigned interior has 33,892 square feet of meeting space and a 28,800-square-foot ballroom that is Iowa’s largest. There are 21 meeting rooms, 20 with flexible walls. Two of its four boardrooms are near the ballroom.

In addition to the arena and the convention center, the Iowa Events Center includes Hy-Vee Hall, with 100,000 square feet of expo space and an additional 50,000 square feet of contiguous space. The renovated Vets Memorial is joined to Hy-Vee, and it’s also linked by a skywalk to the Wells Fargo Arena. Skywalks also link to hotel properties.

“Downtown Des Moines has four miles of skywalks,” Flack said. “You can walk three blocks from a hotel to the center and never go outside.”

Among the distinctive event spots in the Iowa Events Center is the Iowa Hall of Pride in Hy-Vee Hall, an interactive center that celebrates the people, places and spirit of Iowa. Flack said groups often use the space for cocktail parties.

The renovated Vets Memorial also includes a 5,300-square-foot hall that is a tribute to Iowan veterans in foreign conflicts. There are personal stories and photographs.

“It does a great job of commemorating and honoring the state’s veterans, and it makes a nice event space for groups,” Flack said.

Some might say the same of the renovation project.