CBJ Editorial

Steve Shriver, the well-known business owner and serial entrepreneur from Cedar Rapids, sagely advised, “Don’t open an event venue during a pandemic,” during the CBJ’s 90 Ideas in 90 Minutes event in May.

He was making light of the financial challenges he’s faced operating The Olympic Southside Theater, the refurbished historic venue in the New Bohemia district of Cedar Rapids, as public gatherings became sparse and nearly disappeared due to concerns over COVID-19.

Twenty-five miles south, the city of Coralville last week unveiled Xtream Arena, its expansive sports and entertainment venue in the city’s Iowa River Landing district with 5,100 fixed seats and room to seat 6,600 for concerts. The other large portion of the $70 million state-of-the-art sports complex is the 53,000-square-foot, five-court GreenState Family Fieldhouse.

The arena is the most visible yet in a long list of Coralville economic development accomplishments and cements the city’s relationship with the University of Iowa Athletics Department. It will host UI volleyball home games and a yet-to-be-determined minor league hockey tenant.

Funding a project of this scale hasn’t been easy. The city was awarded $12 million from the Iowa Economic Development Authority’s Reinvestment District program. Naming rights from Mediacom, GreenState Credit Union, TrueNorth and Heartland Express, along with private fundraising, will combine with future cash flow to help repay bonds used to finance the project.

The Xtream Arena was expected to spark more than $190 million in investments for the Iowa River Landing, much of that already realized.  Yet the ultimate financial success of these investments will likely be decided by how quickly audiences come back to large sporting and entertainment venues after the COVID-19 pandemic begins to subside.

“When COVID ends, this venue will flourish,” said Josh Schamberger, president of the Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and one of the venue’s primary leaders.

Much of the bold vision and credit should be directed to Coralville’s longtime City Manager Kelly Hayworth, who has been working on a such a concept for nearly 30 years, Mr. Schamberger remarked.

Mr. Hayworth almost singlehandedly transformed Coralville from a sleepy bedroom community into an impressive economic development hospitality and retail hub. This transformation has not come without controversy, primarily arising from those who envied or lamented Mr. Hayworth’s aggressiveness. His leadership was instrumental in bringing to Coralville the Coral Ridge Mall, Coralville Center for Performing Arts, and the Iowa River Landing District with the Coralville Marriott, Von Maur, Trader Joes, a University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics outpatient complex, and now the Xtream Arena.

The impact of this new facility on similar-sized facilities across the Corridor remains to be determined, but it may well pose a challenge for the city of Cedar Rapids’ U.S. Cellular Center and Ice Arena.

As Mr. Shriver implied, it is a scary time to open and operate an events venue. The pandemic will end at some point and UI sports will return. When they do, the Xtream Arena will be positioned to become a signature regional gem. CBJ