Hotel at Kirkwood set for late July opening

by Tim Kenyon

CEDAR RAPIDS – A bold learning experience nears for hospitality students at Kirkwood Community College in southwest Cedar Rapids.

Crews are closing the gap to complete construction of the one-of-a-kind Hotel at Kirkwood Center and adjacent full-service Class Act restaurant on Kirkwood Boulevard SW. The facility is about a half-mile south of the main campus and nearly four miles east of The Eastern Iowa Airport’s front door.

It is expected to open the third week of July, and General Manager Lee Belfield said rooms are being booked starting with Aug. 15.

“As we get closer to the open date, we can move that (selling) date closer,” he said. “September looks strong with a number of weddings and group businesses then and peppered through the remaining part of the year.”

Mr. Belfield said 16 weddings are booked so far.

Travelers won’t be able to book reservations online until early this month, he noted.  “My greatest fear is we’ll be busier than we are prepared for starting; it’s hard to open a hotel full,” he said.

To counter that proactively plans call for trucks loaded with equipment, furnishings, food and other supplies to deliver goods incrementally to the new 90,000 square-foot facility once the go-ahead is given, he said.

Mr. Belfield and other supervisors moved into offices recently at the hotel. Additional staff will soon be followed by students in mid-summer, and students will start classes in the facility a few weeks after the anticipated late July opening.

The hotel’s front side faces north on 76th Avenue SW. The opposite side connects to the college’s continuing education and training services facility. The four-story hotel consists of 71 guest rooms including six suites (three presidential and three executive), plus conference and event facilities available to business, family and other events.

A bevy of work will occur in the final weeks to prepare the facility to open. That noted, he is confident about business prospects — short and long term.

“There are a lot of businesses in our back yard — Aegon, Yellowbook, Clipper Windpower, Nordstrom, and Kirkwood has a remarkable amount of inbound travel,” Mr. Belfield said.

He said the facility won’t impinge the business of the established lodging places.

“There are plenty of customers for everybody,” he said.      

Keyur Naik, a vice president of Hawkeye Hotels in the Cedar Rapids market, said the market is improving.

“We had a pretty good opening year for the Hampton Inn & Suites (1130 Park Pl. NE) in 2009 and this year we’re even doing better and that tells me it was a good project for us to do,” Mr. Naik said. “Knock on wood, we haven’t seen that much downturn as far as hotel occupancies compared to other parts of the country.”

His Burlington-based company’s Homewood Suites extended stay hotel on Sixth Street SW is schedule to open at the end of June. It will offer 95 suites strictly for extended-stay guests, which includes a full kitchenette.

Regarding the pending presence of the Hotel at Kirkwood Center, he said the training will benefit his hotel and others.

The hotel, restaurant and kitchen will be the central working laboratory for students in Kirkwood’s five hospitality arts programs: culinary arts, restaurant management, lodging management, food service and bakery certificate programs. The program waiting list is at 120, as labs are space limited. The culinary labs have 12 workstations while the bakery lab has 16.

Across the hall, the teaching section offers five classrooms designed with efficiency in  mind. For instance, students can pop out a drawer on a desk for a laptop and when not needed, the drawer can be replaced.

A “smart” approach is emphasized on climate control factors. Each guest room, for instance, has a master key that activates the room on entry and powers it down when the guest  leaves, saving power at the systemic and the personal level.

Other features include valet parking, restaurant dining areas ranging from casual to elegant, and concierge services and access with shuttle service to the more abundant fitness options at the Kirkwood Recreation Center.

The Mikka lounge area will add bartending to the program’s list of classes. The lounge will be alongside the hotel lobby area. More group meeting rooms line up to the north, including a 12-seat boardroom and a flex room that seats up to 20.   

Two other features — a 100-seat amphitheatre and a large student lounge area will provide more advantages, Mr. Belfield said.