Checking in: Hotel Space Expanding Around Crossroads Area

Offner, Jim. Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, September 9, 2013.

If hotel rooms are at a premium in Waterloo, Atul Patel is doing what he can to ease any perceived shortage.

On Thursday, Patel broke ground on a new Marriott-franchised Fairfield Inn & Suites, an 81-room facility between Crossroads Boulevard and La Porte Road just south of Bopp Street.

Patel also is getting ready to open a new Choice Hotel-flagged Comfort Inn & Suites at 2011 La Porte Road, a renovation of the old Fairfield building Patel bought last spring. That hotel is scheduled to open Sept. 15.

The new Fairfield - one of the chain's newest designs, Patel said - is scheduled to open in April 2014.

Patel also owns the Candlewood Suites, part of the Intercontinental Hotel Group, in the Crossroads area. Candlewood, an extended-stay facility, opened in 2007.

Patel owns four hotels in all in Waterloo and two in Cedar Falls, plus "about eight" others in the region.

"Each hotel has its own niche," he said.

The final cost estimates for the Fairfield project are not in yet, Patel said, but he estimated the Comfort renovation to cost in the range of $300,000 to $400,000.

Main Street Builders in Waterloo is the lead contractor on the Fairfield facility.

The Crossroads area is a natural draw for hotel development, Patel said.

"That location has always been strong because it's across from the mall, and there's a strong presence of retail, restaurants, you name it," he said.

The only drawback, he said, was that the area surrounding 44-year-old mall has begun to show signs of age.

"The only thing was, it was kind of going downhill," he said. "Now, the city has come up with TIF (tax increment financing) for the area, and there is a lot going on."

He cited as an example developer Ben Stroh's Crossing Point Plaza project that is replacing much of the old Kmart building across San Marnan Drive from Crossroads into a "vertical concept" mall. That project is expected to bring in new retail shops as well as dining options.

Patel's hotel project is one piece is a larger plan to inject new uses into plats of land that have either underperformed or sat vacant, according to city officials.

"Obviously, the City Council adopted the TIF for the Crossroads area to attract new business and retail development and support businesses in that area, as well as strengthen the existing business in the Crossroads area," Community Planning and Development Director Noel Anderson said.

Shoring up an aging commercial cluster along the busiest traffic corridor in Waterloo is a worthwhile investment, Anderson said.

"People remember that the mall was built in 1968, and it's in need of some refreshing and new development to help modernize," Anderson said.

Upgrades in infrastructure will be part of the long-term plan.

"The city will be looking at doing some road improvements to see what we can do to accommodate increasing amount of traffic we're seeing from Crossroads area to the water park," Anderson said. "We'd like to make that more attractive and a more conducive area for that corridor."

Whatever the details require, the city always can use more hotel rooms, said Aaron Buzza, executive director of the Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"I think having options for people coming to town, whether they're coming for business purposes or leisure or special event, having the options is a wonderful thing just because it gives people the opportunity to find what they're looking for," he said.

Currently, there are 1,247 hotel rooms in Waterloo to go with 736 in Cedar Falls, which is "fairly normal" for the metro area's size, Buzza said.

"A number of times during the year we could definitely use a lot more hotel rooms," he said. "I think as business and the economy have turned around we're seeing a lot more travel in general. Even with the increase in inventory communitywide, we've seen occupancy increase, as well."

Patel's projects are ideally located, Buzza said.

"We have a lot of hotels concentrated in that area, and because of its proximity that major intersection (U.S. highways 218 and 20), it's a really easy place for visitors to get to and have easy access to the highways," Buzza said.