ISU moves closer to Hilton expansion

Matt Kuhns

Proposed renovations to Hilton Coliseum moved one step closer to becoming a reality at Tuesday’s Ames City Council meeting.

The council unanimously approved Iowa State’s request to draft an ordinance raising the Ames hotel and motel tax from 5 to 7 percent, with a majority of the revenue going to the Hilton expansion.

If the council approves the ordinance, it will be presented to the residents of Ames in a special election.

At-large city council member Russ Cross said along with putting the tax increase on the ballot, the ordinance will outline how the revenue from the tax will be distributed.

Cross said for the first five years the higher tax rate is in effect, all the added revenue will go to the Iowa State Center.

Over the following five years, the Iowa State Center will receive half the money, with the other half going to the Ames Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Cross said ISU agreed to apply the same increase to the Memorial Union hotel rates, even though state law would exempt them from the city ordinance.

All of the extra tax money from the Memorial Union will be marked for the Iowa State Center.

The university also has agreed that if the revenue from the tax increase falls short of expectations, they will not seek more money from the city, Cross said.

He said if revenue exceeds expectations, the extra money will be used to make improvements to the Scheman Building.

Representatives of ISU, including Vice President for External Affairs Murray Blackwelder, Athletics Director Gene Smith and Iowa State Center Director Mark North answered questions about the proposal.

North said about half an hour was devoted to questions about the planned expansion, adding that “a good share of that time was discussion between the council members.”

Some members of the council were concerned that Ames residents’ tax dollars would be benefiting the ISU athletic program, Cross said.

Cross, however, expressed support for the proposal.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” he said, adding that “Ames residents — unless we decide to stay in a hotel overnight — aren’t paying this tax.”

The proposed renovations to Hilton would add 1,465 more seats and bring the building into compliance with new regulations.

North said the added seats will be fit into existing space and additional space made available by altering some of the interior.

He said contrary to some rumors, the overall structure of the building won’t be altered.

“We would not be doing anything to the existing footprint,” North said.

Cross said the goal of the renovations is not to draw more concerts and events to Hilton.

“The belief is this will just help us keep the business we’ve got,” he said.

The Ames City Council will meet next on Feb. 9, at which time the new ordinance will receive a public hearing, Cross said.

He said the council also will select a date for the special election, most likely some time in April.

In the meantime, North said ISU also will seek approval from the Iowa State Board of Regents.