Return to Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site

Return to Nicholas Johnson's Coralville Rain Forest Web Site

Booking Gigs Not a Problem

Adam Pracht

Iowa City Press-Citizen

October 28, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by the Press-Citizen, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Iowa City Press-Citizen.]

 CORALVILLE -- At night, the Marriott hotel and conference center catches the eye with glittering security lights illuminating the building's dark framework and two towering cranes.

When daylight comes, those cranes move into action as M.A. Mortenson crews push to have the $60 million hotel and conference center open by Aug. 16, 2006.

City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said every aspect of the project was on schedule.

"Obviously, the weather has been perfect and Mortenson and their subcontractors have done an excellent job of just keeping us right on schedule," Hayworth said.

The hotel, under construction at the end of East Ninth Street, will anchor the Iowa River Landing, a retail and residential development southeast of First Avenue and Interstate 80.

"You can see how all those pieces are starting to come together," Hayworth said.

The ceiling of the eighth -- and last -- floor of the hotel and conference center was being poured this week, Hayworth said. The exterior of the conference hall and exhibit space are nearly enclosed and brick is starting to go up on the south and west sides. Hayworth said the second and third floors are starting to be framed and tubs and showers are being installed in some of the hotel's 286 rooms.

Even as the hotel is under construction, Marriott and Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau officials already are lining up conferences for the Marriott.

Justin Hannah, director of sales and marketing for the Marriott, said more than 20 conferences already have been booked, many coming in the past month. That's before a marketing campaign begins early next year. He said the conferences are being booked mostly by word of mouth and some proactive salesmanship.

"Many of the opportunities we're sort of waiting in the wings for," Hannah said.

While most of the conferences are for 2006 through 2008, at least one conference is booked for 2011.

The first major conference will be Sept. 26-29, 2006, with the Iowa League of Cities. Josh Schamberger, president of the Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitors bureau, said that before the Marriott, the area simply didn't have the space to handle the 1,000 expected attendees.

The hotel could be handling an influx of guests even before then, Hannah said, with the Farm Progress Show in the Amana Colonies starting Aug. 28, 2006.

Hannah said there wasn't much cushion if there were construction delays.

"We're really not leaving ourselves too much space because we feel that the Mortenson build team is a quality organization," he said.

Hannah said the proportion of rooms to conference space is particularly attractive to association conferences, which often need plenty of conference and exhibition space but have less need for hotel rooms.

According to bureau figures, with just seven conferences that were booked with the help of the bureau between 2006 and 2011, the Marriott would bring in about 4,750 people and $1.78 million in direct spending alone.

Schamberger said visitors spent $15 million last year just in taxes, providing tax relief to area residents. That amount should grow with the new hotel, he said.

And Hannah said not only would visitors help the area's economy, but the hotel also would provide jobs -- about 100 full-time and 150 part-time positions -- in a variety of fields.

"The hotel's not the panacea for the entire area," he said. "But it's going to have some significant impact, I think."