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Local convention bookings are up


In the past six years, the number of hotel rooms booked by convention visitors in the Des Moines metro area has more than quadrupled, from about 60,000 room-nights in 1997 to nearly 258,000 room-nights in the past fiscal year. That growth is due largely to an aggressive marketing strategy by the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Greg Edwards, the CVB’s president and chief executive.

“When I arrived in late 2000, we really put a strong emphasis on sales,” he said. “I think we’ve got a really good aggressive staff that’s really out selling Greater Des Moines.”

Looking ahead to 2004, “we’re way ahead of booking events compared to where we were a year ago,” Edwards said. The 181,000 convention room-nights already booked for next year are 70,000 more than were booked by this time last year, he said.   Meanwhile, the amount of money spent by visitors to Polk County increased by 3 percent in 2002, according to an annual study released last week by the Iowa Department of Economic Development. Domestic travelers spent an estimated $980 million in Polk County, or about 23 percent of the total travel dollars spent by visitors to Iowa.

Sports-related events have represented a large growth area for Greater Des Moines, and it’s a market that’s just beginning to be tapped. In 2000, the CVB created a new sports marketing position, and has subsequently captured more sports-related events.

Next year, for instance, the city hosts the Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympic Games and the National Disc Golf Tournament. Des Moines has also hosted the U.S. Senior Softball World Series for the past couple of years.

Another source of growth for Greater Des Moines’ convention business will be the Iowa Events Center now under construction. The multi-venue convention complex, which will include the Wells Fargo Arena, Hy-Vee Exhibit Hall and the Iowa Hall of Pride, will tie in with the renovated Veterans Memorial Auditorium. The complex is expected to draw a wide range of sporting events, top-name concerts and major conventions.

“We’ve got probably 15 different events we’re working on right now for the Iowa Events Center,” Edwards said. In addition to seeking conventions to fill the 100,000 square feet of exhibit space in Hy-Vee Exhibit Hall, the CVB is working with the NCAA to bring regional tournaments in basketball, wrestling, and other sports to the arena, and is also discussing some possible events with Iowa State University, he said.

The Jordan Creek Town Center, now under construction in West Des Moines, should also provide a strong tourist draw. A Residence Inn by Marriott is now planned near the new mall, and other possible hotels for that area are in the discussion stages.

“There’s a very strong incentive to build hotels there,” said Paul Rottenberg, president of Orchestrate Management Associates.

Rottenberg, whose company manages the Hotel Fort Des Moines and will manage the Hilton Garden Inn now under construction in Johnston, said there’s always a fear that the hotel market will get overbuilt.

However, “I think properly chosen locations, where there’s commercial development happening that’s generating activity, will continue to be viable,” he said. “Where opportunities exist, you’re going to see rooms go in, and that’s probably the right position.”

The North Park area of Johnston was chosen for the new Hilton because of the amount of commercial activity moving to the north, Rottenberg said. “We feel that area will be underserved in the future, and with all the hotels in the West Des Moines area, we felt that was an area that provided an opportunity.”

Overall, Edwards said, prospects for the coming year are good. “We’re real optimistic about the coming year. Number one, we kick off with the Iowa caucuses, which is huge. Not only does it bring a lot of people to town; it’s also great exposure for Des Moines with the national media. We have a lot of large conventions booked for next year, so it looks like a real solid year.”


Among the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau’s goals for the coming year is to land more big conventions that will fill several hotels at a time. Those types of large events, filling 450 or more rooms at a time, create a “compression effect” between the suburban and downtown hotels. When the downtown hotels fill up, for instance, the suburban hotels attract visitors who would normally stay in the central city.

Also, Greater Des Moines will continue to advertise heavily to the leisure travel market, said Greg Edwards, the CVB’s president and chief executive. Overall, the ads emphasize the metro area as a “family-friendly, clean, all-American city,” he said.

“During the holidays, we’ll run a big holiday shopping campaign saying, ‘Come bring your family to Des Moines and enjoy your time doing some holiday shopping,'” he said. “That’s been pretty effective for us.”

To capitalize on additions to Des Moines’ golf courses, a new campaign scheduled for spring 2004 will market golfing opportunities to winter-weary residents of major cities farther north, such as Minneapolis-St. Paul.


At least three new hotels are under development in Des Moines’ suburbs that will add 445 new rooms to the metro area’s inventory next year.

That’s in addition to approximately 1,600 new rooms that have been added to Greater Des Moines’ inventory in the past six years, representing a 36 percent increase in rooms.

A 122-room Residence Inn by Marriott will be built on the east side of the new Jordan Creek Town Center, according to plans filed with the city of West Des Moines earlier this month.

It will have an indoor pool, patio and a gatehouse connecting two four-story wings of guest rooms. The hotel will overlook a 3 1/2-acre man-made lake that will be created as part of the project, with a trail that will connect the hotel to five planned restaurants. The project is being developed by Tharaldson Development Co. of Fargo, N.D.

The Des Moines Hilton Garden Inn, which will be the first property with the Hilton name in the metro area, is scheduled to open May 2004 at 8600 North Park Drive in Johnston. The six-floor hotel will have 148 rooms, including nine suites and a presidential suite. The developer is Ladco XII of West Des Moines. It will be managed by Orchestrate Management Associates.

The hotel will have 10,300 square feet of meeting space, including a ballroom, reception area, three meeting rooms and a landscaped patio area. Among the amenities will be a pool, whirlpool spa and sauna, a full-service restaurant and food service for meetings and social events.

Over in West Des Moines, Drury Inn and Suites is being developed by Urban Development Corp. as part of a planned mixed business and residential area called West Glen, located north of George M. Mills Civic Parkway and west of Interstate 35.

Scheduled to open in the spring of 2005, the 175-room hotel, will be located near the SuperTarget that’s opening next year. The planned amenities for the upscale property include a pool, workout center and a meeting room for about 85 people.

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