The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

City reveals plans to modernize U.S. Cellular Center and to add a new convention center as projects compete for council backing and federal funds

In City Hall on March 25, 2009 at 5:25 pm

Plans surfaced last night to spend an estimated $50 million to modernize the U.S. Cellular Center and to add a new convention center next to it.

Patrick DePalma, the chairman of the city’s Five Seasons Facilities Commission, revealed the proposal to the City Council last night and said it could help revitalize downtown and spur the building of a new hotel as well as restaurants and shops.

Outside the meeting, DePalma said the commission looked at a range of options for the event center and a convention center and exhibition hall, including a $120-million option that would build a new complex at another site.

But the commission, he said, is recommending a refurbishing of the U.S. Cellular Center and adding a 60,000-square-foot convention center and exhibition hall next to it.

The refurbishment would not enlarge the arena, but would add luxury seating and new concession areas.
The plan also would close Third Street between First and A avenues NE and purchase and demolish commercial buildings and a parking ramp that now sit across Third Street NE from the arena. The convention center would go up on what is street and on the newly created space.

DePalma said the commission likes the idea of a new hotel being built across First Avenue from the U.S. Cellular Center which also could feed the arena and a new convention center.

DePalma, a vice president at AEGON USA, noted the commission has worked with an architect as it developed plans.

He revealed the commission’s plans on a night in which the council was preparing to rank which projects it thought most deserved support from the federal government.

Ten different projects are competing for limited funds from the Economic Development Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The City Council has placed the U.S. Cellular Center project fifth on the list of 10.

At the top of the council’s list is a proposal to revitalize the downtown steam system.

Shannon Meyer, president/CEO of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, lobbied the council last night to move a proposed Regional Commerce Center up the priority list. Six other projects were ahead of it on the list, including a public fiber-optic system, a proposed regional recreation/community center and new steam systems for the hospitals and Coe College.

The recreation/community center and the modernization of the U.S. Cellular Center are projects on the list of the Fifteen in 5 community initiative, the goal of which is to complete 15 projects in five years. Fifteen in 5 began in 2005.

The Chamber’s Meyer said the council needed to pick projects that already have submitted plans to the federal government — like the Regional Commerce Center.

She noted that funds are limited, and that a project in Coralville already has secured an $8-million grant and a project in Waverly has received a $9-million grant from these U.S. Department of Commerce funds.

Doug Neumann, director of the Economic Planning and Redevelopment Corp., was the first to start preparing local projects for Commerce Department funding. He noted that the Linn County Board of Supervisors ranked the fiber-optic project at the top. This project is designed to connect county, city and school buildings with their own fiber-optic lines.

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  1. Hasn’t anyone heard that we are in a recession.I think we need to be thinking about ways to get those affected by the flood taken
    care of so they can move on with their lives.All we hear about is
    revitalizing the downtown area.We can do that after we get new,
    permanent housing for these people.How would members of the Council,Mr.Neumann,or others making these suggestions,like to be
    living in a FEMA trailer,an apartment,or even a hotel room.They make the claim that we need all of this done in order to get more
    events to coe in to help with the economy.That’s kind of funny because I’ve been seeing alot of out of the area people coming in,
    such as Women Bowlers,Wrestling,etc.I believe that these are pretty well filling our hotels.We need another hotel downtown.WHY?
    It would just take away revenue from the hotels we already have or
    don’t these hotels matter to the city as they aren’t in the downtown area.
    I’ll be glad when election time gets here and we can show these
    high rollers where our priorities are.It’s a priority to take care
    of the taxpayers,and future taxpayers first.A five year old could figure that out,so doesn’t this show you what we have representing
    us.

  2. I am soooooo sick of downtown talk. Another hotel? Rick you should do some checking and see how many days out of 365 the Crown Plaza was booked solid.

  3. I agree with Craig,but I think you should go even further and see
    how many days,out of 365,that other area hotels were booked solid.I think you’re going to find out that they are going to have been used more than the Crowne Plaza.Remember several years back
    people were saying they didn’t like staying at the Crowne Plaza
    due to the sound and vibrations from trains passing by at all times of the day and night.That would hold true with any other
    hotel built in that area.I’m all for revitalizing the downtown
    area,but how about using a little common sense.Is that asking too
    much.Seems to be at times.

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