Tourism bureau supports sale of convention center - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Tourism bureau supports sale of convention center

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A critical vote for the future of Waterloo is expected to come before the City Council this Monday. The council will discuss final plans of a proposal for the sale of the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center in downtown Waterloo.

Currently city-owned, the council is looking to sell the property to an Omaha-based developer Leslie Hospitality. The developer would also be purchasing the Ramada Inn- investing millions of dollars in renovations. 

For those visiting the city of Waterloo, the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention center is their first look at what the city has to offer. In it's current shape, Executive Director of  the Waterloo Convention and Visitors Bureau Aaron Buzza says it's not doing the city justice. 

"It can't be lipstick on a pig and we've been pushing that for years," said Buzza. "As well-flooring, lighting, paint on the walls, all of those things."

The Waterloo Convention and Visitors Bureau is looking forward to the fresh change the sale would bring.  It's one they say will match the much-needed face-lift the city of Waterloo has gotten over the last few years. 

Many believe the convention center and Ramada Inn are an eyesore when compared to the fresh look much of the city has been working towards. 

"Especially as we've seen businesses now popping up-the SingleSpeed, the Basal's pizza, everything on Fourth street-that's what visitors are interested in," said Buzza. 

Drawing in visitors has been a challenge for the Visitors Bureau, when presenting the current convention center. 

"It's difficult when you're the older kid on the block," said Buzza. "When there's newer, fresher, maybe a little bit bigger, better technology that sort of thing-it's really hard to compete. What we've really wanted to do is see a refresh of that building. A refresh of the hotel which we're getting and that ties in beautifully with the other unique things that Waterloo has to offer."

If the sale goes through, Buzza says it would put Waterloo on the same playing field with comparable cities like Dubuque which has the contemporary Grand River Center right on the Mississippi. The changes would also put Waterloo on the same level as the La Crosse center in Wisconsin, which also has renovations in it's future but currently keeps the heart of downtown beating. 

"Having 228 rooms completely refreshed is going to mean the world to Waterloo," said Buzza. "It's going to mean the world to be able to market the convention center because if you're attending a convention you want to put your convention attendees somewhere that is first class-that has the services you're expecting."

Buzza, whose pushed the city's tourism, says the sale would even be a catalyst for the entire city.

"You know you see some empty storefronts-if you bring thousands and thousands of new visitors to downtown-why wouldn't you want to have some retail operation or some restaurant?" said Buzza. "Those dollars that are being invested-are going to lead to more things and the economic development is going to be huge because you're going to need those services to provide for the downtown."

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