Hotel at Kirkwood Center: Best Place for a Business Conference

1st time

The Hotel at Kirkwood Center is one of a kind.

The hotel, which has 71 guestrooms and about 19,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space, doubles as a hands-on learning experience for Kirkwood Community College students.

Located at 7725 Kirkwood Blvd. SW, Cedar Rapids, the hotel appears for the first time on the Best of the Corridor list for the Best Place for a Business Conference.

“I think what makes us stand out is the service our staff offers. As a teaching hotel, we are obligated to use nothing but best practices,” said Lee Belfield, the hotel’s general manager. “We’re the only teaching hotel on a two-year campus in America.”

Another aspect of the hotel’s service that stands out is its audio visual technology, which was built into the facility. Mr. Belfield said that the technology is another educational experience for students.

“We’re very fully staffed with professionals, and depending on the day of the week and what time of year it is, we have lots of students, as well,” he said.

Students serve in many support roles to match their levels of progress. They fill roles of guest room attendant, concierge, kitchen staff, restaurant servers, supervisors, bellhops and caterers.

Despite the hotel’s clean, contemporary atmosphere, gourmet food and technology offerings, the most important part of the operation is the staff, Mr. Belfield noted.

“In the hospitality industry, the thing that makes the difference is the people,” he said.

Kirkwood Community College Hospitality Arts graduates find work in everything from casual and fine dining restaurants, to casinos and large food corporations. About 90 percent of them find work within 100 miles of Kirkwood.

Since opening July 26, 2010, business has continued to grow and improve.

“We opened strong and we have improved from that point. The guest rooms are on target, the bar is ahead of target, the restaurant is on target. We are particularly pleased with catering, which is ahead of plan,” he said.

The Class Act restaurant in the hotel offers a diverse menu prepared by Kirkwood culinary arts students.

Because of the hotel’s service standards, the American Automobile Association(AAA) granted the hotel the Four Diamond Award for lodging. The hotel is now one of only two Four Diamond-rated hotels in Iowa. In 2011, it became a member of the international Summit Hotels & Resorts brand.

Guests will notice an extensive, completely original art collection of hand-blown glass, student, faculty and local art featured throughout the building.

Being innovative and unique as a two-year college can be seen across the Kirkwood campus.

“I’m sitting here in my office looking at a windmill turn (on campus); only at Kirkwood could this happen. It’s a really entrepreneurial place,” Mr. Belfield said.

A wind turbine was installed at Kirkwood in 2012. It generates about $300,000 of power a year for the college. The $5.2 million structure is about 417-feet tall.

The hotel also has had a strong focus on conserving energy since opening, which leads to cost savings.

The energy-efficient products save about $140,000 per year, versus the standard code base. For example, seven pumps freeze ice in nine “ICE KUBE” units late in the night when energy rates are lowest. That trapped ice then melts the next day, cooling the classrooms, kitchens and Class Act Restaurant when daytime electric rates are much higher. That, along with geothermal ground heat exchanges, cool and heat the 117,000-square-foot facility.

Looking ahead, Mr. Belfield said the opening of the downtown Cedar Rapids Double Tree by Hilton hotel attached to the Convention Center may have an impact on business.

“It will be interesting to see 270 more hotel rooms in the marketplace and how that will affect the short-term,” he said. “It’s the shiny new penny, but I think mid-to-long term business will benefit. It’ll take awhile but it’s going to be beneficial for all of us.”

-Pat Shaver