|By Dave DeWitte, The Gazette, Cedar
Rapids, IowaMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 30, 2010--CEDAR RAPIDS Jack Zazza, whose dream of opening an Italian restaurant turned into one of Iowa's best family-owned hotels, died Tuesday after a long illness at age 89.
Zazza was owner and president of Simanek & Zazza Plumbing and Heating when he joined with Don Broulik to develop what's now the Clarion Hotel and Convention Center in 1976 at 525 33rd Ave. SW.
Sue Zazza-Hutchcroft said her father, the son of immigrants, had long talked about opening an Italian restaurant. He was discussing the idea one day with the general manager of Elmcrest Country Club, who had an idea that he liked. Why not build a hotel, and put the restaurant in it?
The 156 room hotel opened as the Sheraton Inn, with Zazza's restaurant and the Centurion Lounge.
Zazza became the sole owner after his partner died within the first few years of opening the hotel. He owned extra land around the hotel which he sold off for development, helping pioneer the cluster of Interstate 380 hotels and restaurants in southwest Cedar Rapids at the 33rd Avenue exit.
Zazza's son, Alan, managed the hotel. Sue ZazzaHutchcroft was assistant manager, and almost every family member worked for the business at one time or another.
Jack Zazza was on the property almost every single day, however, meeting friends and making guests feel welcome.
'By the time he built it, he was already retirement age,' Zazza-Hutchcroft said. 'But he made it his home. He had an office, and he had a pet project going most of the time.' Alan Zazza died in January 2006, and the family sold the business in 2007 to Maryland-based Synergy Hotel Group at Jack's urging.
Gerald Ovel met Jack Zazza when his Iowa Pipe & Supply business was selling plumbing supplies to Zazza's plumbing business. Ovel built a 72-unit apartment complex with Zazza in Iowa City, and almost went into the hotel-restaurant business with him. They later became neighbors in a Florida condominium community.
'He was a good businessman and a good friend.' Ovel said. 'He had a warm personality.
He never got mad, and he was always ready to help.' Although the World War II Army Air Corps veteran devoted most of his time to the plumbing business and hotel, he was a partner in building Willow Brook Assisted Living Center (now Silver Pines) and several apartment complexes. (obituary, 8A)
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