The newly renovated lobby at Coralville’s Heartland Inn. PHOTO DAVE DEWITTE

 

By Dave DeWitte
dave@corridorbusiness.com

CORALVILLE—A Des Moines company has completed the first stage in a major renovation of the 169-room Heartland Inn on the Coralville strip as it seeks to better position the property against an onslaught of new competition.

TMG Management acquired the hotel at 87 Second St. in April for just under $10 million from a real estate investment company based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Heartland Inn is in a prime location across from the University of Iowa baseball complex, and is the closest hotel to Kinnick Stadium and Carver Hawk- eye Arena. Architecturally, it consists of two mirror image buildings constructed at different times, connected by a single ground floor lobby area.

Since acquiring the hotel, TMG has expanded and renovated the lobby, and refurbished all of the ground floor guest rooms and the indoor pool area. Work has now moved on to the second floor level, according to Sales Director Caitlyn Robert.

The lobby changes are some of the most important, Ms. Robert said, creating a warmer, brighter and more spacious first impression for guests entering the hotel.

TMG is an experienced operator of multifamily rental housing in central Iowa, but the Heartland Inn is its first for- ay into the lodging industry.

“They see this as an opportunity to make an investment in the city, rather than just a quick way to make a buck,” Ms. Robert said.

While the Heartland has enjoyed strong occupancy, Ms. Robert was quick to point out that the investment in upgrading the property, which dates to 1983, is also strategic. In just the next month, she said the Iowa City-Coralville area is expected to see three new hotels totaling about 300 rooms enter the market. About ve are expected to open over the next year.

“They’re all brand spanking new, so we need to be on our game,” she said. General Manager Debbie Bullion has been with the Heartland Inns of America since 1991, and managed the Coralville location during its closure and recovery from the flood of 2008. She now manages the last of what was once a 19-hotel chain based in Waterloo. She said the Coralville property’s location brings an experienced staff and diverse clientele that “keeps it interesting.”

“With the [UI Hospitals and Clinics] nearby, it’s very rewarding, and on weekends you get all the game people. We get the teams and the weddings, so it’s very interesting,” Ms. Bullion said.

The Heartland in Coralville wound up being the last of the brand by the time the original owners sold the chain in 2007. The Coralville property was still recovering from the 2008 flood and not especially appealing to buyers. The company that acquired the remaining Heartlands converted them to other flags, but the Charlotte real estate group that bought the Coralville property decided to keep the name because it was so well known within the market.

Ms. Bullion said many guests have been coming to the Heartland for years when visiting the UI Hospitals or attending athletic events, and know the staff well.

The Heartland also has a brisk business providing accommodations for wed- ding parties and guests, Ms. Bullion said, because it’s an economical alternative to downtown Iowa City properties with banquet facilities onsite.

Ms. Robert said TMG has used almost exclusively local contractors and suppliers for the renovations, which will be completed over the next two years. TMG is expecting to acquire more hotels in the not-too-distant future, she said, but they will join more mainstream hotel franchises with established booking and reservation systems rather than becoming Heartland Inns.