February 2015

Eastern Iowa is business-ready, with extra off-session pursuits

by Carolyn Blackburn


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    National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, Dubuque



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    Kinnick Stadium, University of Iowa, Iowa City


Mingling work and play in Eastern Iowa’s group-friendly destinations is a cinch for planners, as the region is filled with world-class attractions and various fun activities as well as meetings-ready facilities and an intriguing lineup of off-site venues for hosting memorable events.

Cedar Rapids

The nearly $1 billion invested in Cedar Rapids since 2008, including new facilities for meetings and revitalized neighborhoods lined with eateries, theaters, cafes and shops, has, according to Sarah Tarnowski, director of convention sales at the Cedar Rapids Area CVB, made the city a more attractive place to work and play.

A couple new and notable members of the city’s impressive meetings portfolio are the Hotel at Kirkwood Center, the city’s only AAA Four Diamond hotel, and the DoubleTree by Hilton Cedar Rapids Convention Complex, which opened in 2013 with over 80,000 square feet of meeting space and rising-star Executive Chef Nazim Khan. His show, Chop Chop with Chef Nazim, is aired on local channels KGAN and KFXA, and his unique cuisine is spotlighted on banquet menus and at the property’s signature restaurant, 350 First, which has become a local hot spot offering bird’s-eye views of the city.

As for off-sites, the NewBo City Market, which is located in the hip NewBo neighborhood, is Iowa’s only year-round indoor market. According to Tarnowski, it was just named the 2014 Iowa Tourism Attraction of the Year.

“You’ll find over two dozen start-up restaurants, specialty shops, live music, a fresh produce market and more,” she says, adding the market has private space for events.

When business has concluded, groups with time for some fun can check out a Cedar Rapids Kernels baseball game.

“There isn’t a bad seat in the house and with local beers and foods it’s a great place to enjoy an authentic ballgame meal,” Tarnowski says, adding that groups can reserve the mezzanine or, for smaller groups, one of the suites.

Among the many other entertaining options for groups in Cedar Rapids is an outing to Cedar Ridge Winery, where attendees will enjoy tours, wine tastings, a meal and live music, or to the Paramount Theatre, which features a full calendar of performances and has space for group gatherings.

Dubuque

Iowa’s oldest city has also undergone a revitalization in recent years that, according to Julie Kronlage, director of sales at the Dubuque Area CVB, has made the city a great destination for groups of all sizes seeking a place to work and play.

“By day convention and meeting delegates can meet overlooking the world’s fourth-largest river or in newly renovated hotel space, and by night, they can dine with the animals that occupy the river or take in Dubuque’s vibrant downtown nightlife,” she says, citing the happening and group-friendly Historic Millwork District, where planners will find various indoor and outdoor reception spaces.  

Dining with river animals can be arranged at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, a standout Dubuque off-site where delegates can network alongside fish and other critters and enjoy a delicious meal.

Among the options where groups can get down to business are the Grand Harbor Resort/Grand River Center, attached properties via enclosed climate-controlled skywalk on the banks of the Mississippi River. Kronlage says the hotel recently completed a guest room remodel and the Grand River Center recently received an extensive technology upgrade.  

The Best Western Plus Dubuque Hotel & Conference Center and Hotel Julien Dubuque, once home to mobster Al Capone, are two other popular meetings-friendly properties in the city.


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