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New Venues Bring Heartland Nature Indoors

Study after study confirms that people learn and engage best outside, and not just because of the fresh air. Natural light, the abundant space and the tones and movement of vegetation and water have a profound psychological effect on our ability to stay focused and be creative.

Smart hoteliers have realized that the typical low ceilinged subterranean meetings spaces are not what meeting planners are yearning for today, and they have risen to the occasion.

Since last year, throughout the Heartlands, a wide range of new or newly renovated meeting spaces in all sizes have been shaping up, and they all have one exciting thing in common: connecting your meeting with the great outdoors, no matter the weather. Here are some of them.


DoubleTree by Hilton Cedar Rapids Convention Complex at the U.S. Cellular Center

Cedar Rapids, Iowa

When it comes to bringing the outside in, it’s more difficult to do with some locations than with others. But if your convention center is so centrally located downtown that it’s attached to a 9,600-seat arena, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

DoubleTree by Hilton easily rose to the challenge with its new Cedar Rapids Convention Complex because the company had already overcome an even greater one: complete devastation to the entire downtown area in June 2008 when the Cedar River flooded the city.

“The flood was the impetus behind the construction,” said general manager Matt Felling. “This was done by the city. It was their vision. They never had a convention center, and they had to start with this to drive new restaurants and lounges and a nouveau market district. It has definitely worked.”

Following a complete two-year shutdown, the triplex of the renovated DoubleTree and U.S. Cellular Center Arena and the new convention center opened in 2013 with interior design more reminiscent of a New York City boutique hotel. With 267 rooms in the hotel and nearly 100,000 square feet of meeting space throughout the three spaces, the complex can accommodate everything up to major corporate and association annual meetings.

Each part of the complex takes guests through Iowa in a different season, with winter in the grays, blues and blacks of the arena; spring in the leaves and blossoms of the meeting spaces; summer in the vibrant colors echoing the sky and the river in the convention center and ballroom; and the fall leaf palette running through the prefunction spaces.

Art further enhances the sense of place with scenes of Iowa’s famous cornfields in the guest rooms and photos on loan from the history museum throughout the public spaces, which also feature four installations by Cedar Rapids artists.

Although neither the hotel nor the convention center has an official outdoor space due to seasonal restrictions, the 16th-floor restaurant 350 First has floor-toceiling windows that offer panoramic views of the river and the city.