CEDAR FALLS — A South Dakota-based hotel company is planning a doubleheader project in the Cedar Falls Industrial Park, expanding one hotel and adding another.
Chris-Bro Hospitality of Rapid City, which opened the Hilton Garden Inn in 2012, plans a 7,000-square-foot expansion of that facility, increasing existing meeting space into a 12,500-square-foot a conference center. In addition, the company plans to add a nearly 60,000-square-foot, 92-room TownePlace Suites by Marriott extended-stay hotel for those attending professional conferences or on temporary work assignments.
Though company principals did not disclose a cost for the projects, in comparison, the 113-room Hilton Garden Inn cost $10 million when it was built five years ago. They plan to seek no property tax abatements from the city.
Mark Aftanski, chief operating officer of Chris-Bro, said, “We are taking our existing current conference center and expanding it into a convention center of up to 12,000 square feet of flexible space. We’re going to extend patios outside the convention center so that if we have functions or events that have the ability to flow outside, we’re going to have the conference center opening into patios, multi-level patios.”
The building would be expanded to the east with parking added as well. The TownePlace Suites by Marriott would be built on an already cleared space just south of the existing Hilton Garden Inn and parking lot.
The existing 5,000-square-foot conference center ballroom space is frequently filled to capacity for large events, with parking filling lots and overflowing along access roads and adjacent grassy areas.
“We definitely saw the need for adding more space into the Cedar Falls market,” Aftanski said. There are 13 acres adjoining the current hotel, he said, and company CEO Craig Christianson acquired that land with eventual expansion in mind.
“His initial plan when he bought the land was to expand — to expand the conference center into a convention center and more development on this corner, which he saw as a ‘beacon on the hill’ in the Cedar Valley — a place which would provide easy access for businesses and social events for people of the Cedar Valley. We have the ability to add at least one more hotel and some smaller development on the site.” The new parking area to the east will have elevator access to the convention center.
The TownePlace Suites by Marriott is for customers staying five or more nights, for guests staying for training or in the process of relocating. “It’ll be a mixture of studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom suites,” he said. All of the rooms have a full kitchen, and the one- and two-bedroom suites will have a living area.
“It’s comfortable. You have room to spread out, there’s comfortable place to work. It really is a mini home away from home,” Aftanski said.
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“There’s a lot of pent-up demand that we feel leaves the Cedar Falls area and goes to other markets simply because there’s a lack of space for those type of events — larger trade shows, larger corporate meetings. Even the wedding market is to a point where we are having to turn away weddings because we don’t have the space available. So think there’s a lot of opportunity to bring business back into Cedar Falls and the Cedar Valley.”
With the new extended-stay hotel, he said, “There’s a lot of requests, a lot of demand out there, for training classes, for corporate relocations, for people that are on contract assignments, where they’re there for 30, 60, 90 days. And currently, they’re forced to relegate themselves to a regular hotel room. I think there’s a really good opportunity for us to provide a tremendous alternative for those folks.”
The projects would add the equivalent of 30 to 40 full-time positions for the extended-stay property and another 20 to 30 for the expanded Hilton Garden Inn.
The company hopes to break ground by fall on both projects. City officials said the company will have to submit a site plan. The convention center would be finished next spring or early summer and the new hotel the late fall of 2018.
“It’ll be a beautiful profile to the east. It will really add a lot to the look of the property,” said Andrew Woodrick, Hilton Garden Inn manager.
The company also has the Hampton Inn in Waterloo.
Cedar Falls Mayor Jim Brown hailed the projects and said they will fill a community need in the wake of Pipac Centre closing.
“I’m tickled pink they’re looking at investing,” Brown said.
Steve Dust, president of the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber, said “It’s exciting, because we know the quality of the Hilton has been very high. It’s a welcome addition to our community in meeting space.”