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Teaching hotel opens at Iowa community college

Courtesy The Hotel at Kirkwood Center

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The nation’s newest teaching hotel, the Hotel at Kirkwood Center, rolled out the red carpet during its grand opening celebration in late September.

The hotel is part of Kirkwood Community College, which showed off its newest addition during guided tours of guest rooms and suites and demonstrations in its culinary and bakery labs, classrooms and student areas. A welcoming reception showed off the hotel’s ballroom, part of the hotel’s 20,000 square feet of meeting space, to the hundreds of guests.

The grand opening was far from day one for the 71-room hotel, which has been in operation since its soft opening in late July. General manager Lee Belfield said the formal celebration highlighted the property’s excellence and achievements.

“This hotel is a showcase for where the hospitality industry is headed, what we believe the future probably will be for our graduates,” Belfield said.

“We are convinced that our teaching hotel is setting the bar for a community-college training program. I’m confident to say that in 2010, this is as good as it gets for teaching culinary arts, restaurant management and hotel management professionals.”

The $30 million hotel and teaching facility focuses on the philosophy of “learning by doing,” according to Mick Starcevich, Kirkwood’s president.

“That idea of getting firsthand experience alongside a professional staff is a time-honored philosophy,” he said. “It goes hand-in-hand with teaching hospitals and the entire internship method of learning. We believe our students will get that rich experience not just for a month or a semester. Our students now see one of the best hotels in the Midwest, serving and exceeding our guest and diner expectations on a daily basis.”

The grand opening also showcased other facets of Kirkwood’s educational services. Musical entertainment came courtesy of the college’s performing arts program. Many of those serving guests and conducting tours were Kirkwood students. Many of the more than 300 artworks in the four-story hotel were created by Kirkwood students or graduates, with most of the others coming from artists from Iowa or with campus connections.

The teaching facility will affect hundreds of students and elevate training in the hospitality industry, Belfield said.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the best in the hospitality business and served with some of the best names in the industry. I can honestly tell you this is the most complex, exciting and rewarding project I have ever experienced,” he said.

“Our students are gaining some of the best training in the country, learning what best practices are like, up close. Best of all, they get to see and hear pleased and happy guests in the process.” Belfield said. “That’s when they enter the career path as leading professionals of the next generation.”