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Hospitality (5)

Stepping Out

Just outside the restaurant, Lee Belfield stands behind the fireplace-warmed seating area in the hotel lobby. From this vantage point he listens to the hum of guests’ voices. This is his favorite spot.

Belfield helped launch and operate hotels and restaurants around the country before taking a teaching position within Kirkwood’s expanding hospitality arts programs in 2001 and soon after guiding a new hotel management program.

For the first few years of the program, host hotels in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City provided on-the-job training for students, but work experiences were inconsistent. When a hotel was short a dishwasher, for example, plugging in a student intern was a great temptation.

“Without our own hotel, I’m not sure we would have continued our hotel management program,” says Belfield, now general manager of what began as a daring aspiration.

General Manager Lee Belfield (above) encouraged Kirkwood College’s hospitality arts program to be bold.

“If we were to prepare our students to take entry-level supervisory roles, I knew they’d need hands-on, real-life experiences.”

Belfield spent two years visiting and studying teaching hotels in Maine, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas. He returned to Cedar Rapids with a set of realty-based ideas and a focus on industry trends.

He pitched a boutique hotel with a Euro-chic design — HUT (hip, urban, and trendy) became the project’s catchphrase — that would offer guests a unique experience in Iowa’s I-80 corridor and give students an exceptional learning opportunity that would open doors at top hotels, restaurants, and conference centers.

A world-class conference center and banquet room were already in the works. In addition to classrooms, teaching kitchens, and student spaces, decision makers agreed the new hotel should also include a gourmet restaurant and expanded professional kitchen — all intended to boost students’ hands-on learning.

(Read more about Iowa Hospitality)

The staff-to-guest ratio at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center is 1 to 1, contributing to a level of service that recently earned the American Automobile Association’s (AAA) prestigious Four Diamond Award for lodging.

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