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South Side will get another new hotel


Project allows Heart of America Restaurant and Inns to offer lodging at all price points near busy airport exit  

Davenport-based Heart of America Restaurant and Inns plans to build another new hotel at the Fleur Drive airport exit off the Iowa Highway 5 beltway, which was completed last November and is already fueling growth on Des Moines’ South Side.

The company has obtained a franchise agreement from Marriott International Inc., and will build an 83-room Fairfield Inn and Suites at Fleur and Rittenhouse, just south of Des Moines International Airport. In 1999, Heart of America bought the former Airport Wingate hotel, reopening the renovated 101-room facility as the Radisson Hotel Des Moines Airport in April 2002. A restaurant, Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse, was added to the hotel, returning the ambience of the supper club to the South Side.

Construction on the Fairfield Inn hotel will begin around Labor Day, with completion expected by mid-2004, said Carmen Darland, Heart of America’s vice president of marketing.

Highway 5 provides access to both the airport and downtown area, making Fleur Drive an ideal spot for a new hotel, Darland said. “Once the beltway was completed, it became obvious this is a front door to Des Moines now,” she said. “We expect the area to continue growing for commercial use, which is the bread and butter of the hotel industry.

“There’s enough traffic that it whets developers’ appetites,” she said. “It’s very accessible, but not overcrowded.”

Darland said the relocation of Highway 5 gives Heart of America an opportunity to duplicate a strategy that has worked well for the company on the metropolitan area’s west side, where it operates Comfort Suites and Sleep Inn in the shadow of Living History Farms. Comfort Suites rooms are available for $90 to $110 per night, while Sleep Inn’s are priced lower, at $59 to $78 per night.

On the South Side, Radisson rooms rent for $99 to $129, and suites with whirpool baths can cost up to $200. The Fairfield Inn rooms will be more moderately priced, in the $55 to $75 range.

“This is the same successful formula we’ve used on the West Side, with two different price points and two different sets of expectations,” Darland said.

Because of the moderately priced rooms, she expects the Fairfield Inn to be a popular choice for leisure travelers and business travelers who are paying their own expenses. Guests at the hotel also will be able to use their Marriott Rewards program points.

The Radisson appeals mainly to high-end business travelers and affluent leisure travelers.

Heart of America Restaurants and Inns began 25 years ago when founder and CEO Mike Whalen, who had just graduated from honors from Harvard Law School, created the first Iowa Machine Shed Restaurant in Davenport. Heart of America has since become one of the Midwest’s premier hospitality companies with 25 restaurants and hotels in five states.

In Greater Des Moines, Heart of America’s operations also include the Iowa Machine Shed Restaurant at Living History Farms and Wildwood Lodge, an independent hotel in Clive.

In addition to its Machine Shed and Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse restaurant brands, the company also owns restaurants under the names of The Captain’s Table, Gramma’s Kitchen, Checkered Flag Bar and Grille and Thunder Bay Grille.

Darland said Whalen is exploring yet another restaurant brand, but has not yet secured a location for it. Because the company is self-financed, growth is slow and “keeps at a manageable pace,” she said.  

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