U.S. Cellular Center still waiting for renovation, expansion - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

U.S. Cellular Center still waiting for renovation, expansion

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CEDAR RAPIDS (KWWL) - The U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids may be moving closer to getting a facelift, and a new convention building. It's a project that would cost more than $60 million, but experts in the local tourism industry say it would provide a much-needed shot in the arm to the area's economy.

"Really, the arena floor's only 30-thousand square feet, and that's arena floor space, not a true convention center space," said Scott Schoenike, the center's executive director.

He's been feeling a bit cramped when it comes to the ability to host large-scale conferences and meetings. The Cedar Rapids Convention and Visitor's Bureau says the addition of a traditional convention center would mean more money for the city.

Jessica Palmer says a new center would bring an estimated $7.7 million in direct spending to Cedar Rapids, on a yearly basis.

"It would open up a new market for us, and allow us to be competitive again in a market that we currently are not competitive in," said Palmer.

The goal is to make the city a more attractive gathering place for regional and statewide organizations, any day of the week.

"That's really the key," said Schoenike, "is to put people down here during the weekdays, fill up the hotel rooms, and I think you'll see that have the most impact on the city and the downtown area."

Palmer says such an expansion "could be a catalyst for downtown revitalization, and recovery from one of the largest natural disasters in U.S. history."

For now, the city is waiting for a $35 million grant from the Economic Development Administration. There's also ongoing discussion of where the proposed convention center would go, as it may change the layout of the 1st Avenue and 3rd Street intersection.

The city of Cedar Rapids would need to come up with matching funds for the project. Mayor Ron Corbett says he'd like to see the state legislature create a provision allowing voters to raise the cap on hotel and motel taxes to get that funding.

Online Reporter - Brady Smith

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