CEDAR FALLS — A new convention center is hoping to provide a major boost to the Cedar Valley tourism industry.
The Holiday Inn & Suites-Bien VenU Event Center has opened for business at 7400 Hudson Road, north of West Ridgeway Avenue, bringing 126 hotel rooms and an attached state-of-the-art, 34,000-square-foot event facility to the area.
“This is the gateway to Cedar Falls, so that’s a huge thing,” said Atul Patel, president of Open Door Hospitality. “But it’s a Cedar Valley project that’s going to have a great impact to the community as a whole.”
Patel, who has been developing hotels locally and in the Midwest for decades, said Bien VenU is a “unique, one-of-a-kind” venue in the company’s portfolio.
He began developing the four-story hotel and Bien VenU — literally French for “welcome” — to replace the Park Place Events Center, also known as Pipac Centre on the Lake, which closed in 2016.
The event center has a 14,000-square-foot ballroom, which can be divided into six meeting rooms of various sizes, surrounded by 9,000 square feet of pre-event space and four unique outdoor courtyard areas for events. Bien VenU can handle weddings, conventions, trade shows and other events and meetings with a handful of guests to more than 1,000 people.
The facility has a full kitchen to cater events and can provide overnight lodging for attendees in the attached hotel.
“We’re bringing in something the Cedar Valley has been missing for awhile,” said Nick Hedrick, director of catering. “With Pipac closing and the state of the convention center there’s been that vacuum, and we’ve been losing a lot of business to Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and the Des Moines area.
“It’s the Cedar Valley’s turn to start getting those back,” he added. “We have such a great community, both Waterloo and Cedar Falls, we might as well be able to show it off. This is a gorgeous facility to be able to do that.”
Patel said the courtyard areas, including one specifically designed for wedding ceremonies and another with a fire pit and decorative 1950s pickup truck, provide flexibility to connect indoor and outdoor spaces.
General Manager Sterling Brazier said the facility has hosted events for 10 to 400 guests during its first week and was preparing for its first wedding. Brides were given hard hat tours during the construction process.
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“One of the nice things is now there are events, including some we’ve booked already, that couldn’t look at Cedar Falls or even Waterloo before because they didn’t have the venue to do it,” Brazier said. “We’re attracting a lot of new business plus local businesses that have had large events that had to look elsewhere.”
Russell Co., of Davenport, was the contractor on the project, including the 83,500-square-foot Holiday Inn & Suites, which has unique features of its own.
The hotel includes a Toast to Toast cafe serving breakfast, dinner and drinks, which has an outdoor courtyard with a brick pizza oven. A “faux fire” feature, using LED lights and water vapor to create the illusion of flames, has been a popular eye-catching lobby attraction for guests.
“We want to give the guests a few options for a place to relax or a place to sit before their events,” Brazier said.
The hotel also includes a game room with shuffleboard and billiards tables, a private concierge lounge, a media center, swimming pool and fitness center, and two presidential suites with kitchenettes. A high-tech meeting room for board meetings and a second meeting room are also available for lease in the hotel.
Brazier noted the hotel has a number of “green” features designed to conserve energy, including sensors that adjust the room temperatures depending on whether they’re occupied.
Patel said he initially tried to buy the Pipac Centre and explored sites in Waterloo before landing on the project location.
Being near the University of Northern Iowa and having easy access to U.S. Highway 20 make the location ideal, he said. Open Door Hospitality also owns the adjacent Holiday Inn Express and has more land to grow if needed in the future.