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Under Construction

Coralville Makes Way for Marriott's Opening

Brian Morelli

Iowa City Press-Citizen

April 9, 2006

[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 -- They're wallpapering the third floor, dry-walling the eighth, the airplane hanger-sized exhibit hall is nearly finished and wiring hangs from the ceiling awaiting Hu Hung Shu's art piece that will descend over the grand spiral staircase.

Every step kicks up a mist of sawdust. Plumbing and electrical wiring are still visible. Flurries of workers sand, hammer, drill and saw in nearly every corner of the 286-room hotel with 60,000 square feet of meeting space.

"This is under full construction," said Pat Clemons, assistant project manager for the $60 million Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center southeast of Interstate 80 exit 242.

The Marriott is slated as the first piece of a massive redevelopment effort of the Iowa River Landing area, encompassing about 180 acres, which Coralville leaders hope will make an inviting gateway.

Four months separate the facility from its planned opening Aug. 15. With about 200 construction workers punching in daily, contractors don't expect any delays.

"This will be ready," said Bill Boyd, a project consultant hired by Coralville.

"This will surpass Marriott standards on so many levels," he said.

Each of the eight floors, the 160-seat Edgewater Grille, the Iowa Writers' Center Library, the Starbucks coffee stand, the 10 soundproof boardrooms and the pool are at different stages of completion. But with some imagination, one can start to envision the completed project.

Tracks for dividers line ceilings in two ballrooms that can convert to 10. The eighth floor three-bay Hoover presidential suite overlooks what will be a terraced pond-side patio. A private chefs office with a test kitchen monitors a widespread catering kitchen.

Outside, dump trucks and other vehicles plod over chewed up dirt. Paving of a front entrance motor court should begin in June, bricks would be laid in July and landscaping would occur throughout the summer. Eventually, with a parking garage and a surface lot, there will be more than 1,100 parking spaces. The Ninth Street main access road also should be completed by July 1.

"It's funny, the more done it gets, the bigger the space seems," said Ellen Habel, Coralville assistant city manager.

Habel recently toured the facility, having not seen it since last fall.

"When you see all the things come together, it's impressive. This is a big impressive space," she said.

Wireless Internet will service inside the hotel, and outside the city plans to extend the cFree Wireless network that was recently launched in other part of the Corridor.

When completed, the project will in some ways resemble a traditional upscale Marriott.

Deep cherry wood, gold and dense shades of red will accent the guest rooms. Each room will have granite counter tops, frosted glass bathroom doors, a pivoting desk, 27-inch flat panel televisions and beds with about a half dozen pillows.

However, the smoke-free facility will focus on local flavor with work by local artists, such as Marcia Wegman and Shari Davis, 10 boardrooms named after famous Iowans, such as Samuel Kirkwood, Fred "Duke" Slater and Grant Wood, and Anamosa limestone. The exterior will incorporate the Iowa River, including bridges to a walking path through a wetlands preserve.

"As far as looks, Marriotts have had a more conservative look. This will be more eclectic with bright colors and the art will be avant garde with a local flavor," said Justin Hannah, Coralville Marriott's director of sales. "It's a different look and feel for Marriott."

At capacity, between the hotel and conference space, the Marriott could house a city bigger than the populations of Tiffin, Hills, Oxford, Riverside and Solon combined.

"The city hired us to pull business from Des Moines, the Quad Cities, Chicago, St. Louis and Minnesota," Hannah said.

Although conducting business at the new Marriott won't be an option for at least two more months, Hannah and a team of executives have set up shop in Riverview Square, 408 First Ave.

They have lined up more than 15 events, including the Iowa League of Cities from Sept. 27 to 29, the first in the exhibit hall.

The hotel has started taking reservations for UI football weekends -- except the Sept. 2 opener -- and for dates past Nov. 1. As the opening date approaches, the hotel will be able to book reservations earlier. Single room prices will range from $89 to $179 and $259 to $279 for football weekends.