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.