CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA — There will soon be another addition to the Cedar Rapids skyline. Moline based Heart of America Group announced plans for a $53 million dollar project in downtown Cedar Rapids that would include the renovation of the historic Guaranty Bank Building into a Courtyard by Marriot hotel, and the construction of an additional nine-story, 110 foot tall AC Hotel next door. The two hotels would add 200 plus hotel rooms to downtown. The project also includes the restaurant Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse, a rooftop bar called the Republic on Third, and an enclosed, year-round courtyard in the former theater space of the World Theater. The lobby of the World Theater will be restored. This would be the largest single private investment in downtown Cedar Rapids ever.
“There has been an amazing rebirth here and we’re excited to be part of it,” said Mike Whalen, CEO and Founder of Heart of America Group. The company operates 35 hotels in seven states, 21 restaurants in six states, and has begun to franchise out some restuaraunt brands, including Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse. The company plans to maintain ownership of the project after construction and run the hotels, restaurant, and rooftop bar and is aiming for an opening date in late 2020.
City officials, including City Manager Jeff Pomeranz, Mayor Brad Hard, multiple City Councilpersons, as well as elected officals from throughout Linn County we’re on hand for a public unveiling of the project in the lobby of the Guaranty Bank building. Mayor Hart stressed that Heart of America was making a long term commitment to downtown Cedar Rapids.
“This is the most unique project we’ve had yet in Cedar Rapids,” said Hart, “and of the most unique hotel projects in the world.”
The World is the center of the project. The long vacant theater space was gutted after the 2008 flood. Heart of America will restore the lobby of the theater building, and convert the theatre hall space into an enclosed climate controlled garden that will open to a courtyard.
Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust became owner of the Guaranty Bank building after acquiring Guaranty Bank in 2017. Both companies had headquarters downtown, and CRBT chose to sell the Guaranty building.
“It was clear that CRBT knew it had a community stewardship responsibility,” said Whalen, about the companies efforts to find a new owner for the 1895, brick and granite building. The 8,000 square foot steakhouse will be on the first floor of the Guaranty Bank Building, which will be converted in a 79 room Courtyard by Marriot hotel.
Heart of America will also build a brand new hotel building on a parking lot between the World Theater and downtown bike trail. The new hotel will be an 126 room AC Hotel by Marriott, a boutique hotel brand that will be higher-end than the DoubleTree. The new hotel will be nine stories tall, and be home to a rooftop bar called the Republic on Third. Whalen said that the rooftop bar will be twice the size of the rooftop bar of the AC Hotel in Des Moines’ East Village neighborhood, which is also owned and operated by Heart of America, and will feature a retractable roof.
The city is not worried about these hotels cannibalizing the city owned DoubleTree hotel.
“We’ve heard we’re at least 150 rooms short for conferences” said Hart. The city owned convention center has trouble booking conferences because there aren’t enough hotel rooms in downtown Cedar Rapids, according to Hart.
“Conference goers don’t want to drive but they don’t mind walking,” said Hart. The additional hotel rooms in walking distance to the US Cellular Center will make it easier to book conventions and conferences.
“These are not drive-by hotels” said Whalen, “it’s a go-to hotel for people in Cedar Rapids.”
The rooftop bar, enclosed garden, are expected to be used to Cedar Rapidians just as much or even moreso than hotel guests.
Heart of America Group plans to donate $100,000 to ConnectCR, the group working to reimagine Cedar Lake, and the hotels will have bikes available to guests.
On Tuesday, November 13, Cedar Rapids City Council will consider a proposal to contribute $3 million to the project upon its completion and waive new taxes generated by property value improvements for 20 years, foregoing $13 million in revenue for the city. The project is still expected to generate $16 million in tax revenue over that time through existing property tax rates, hotel-motel taxes, and SSMID contributions.
The project has already recieved $1 million in state tax credits.