This year Dubuque celebrates its 175th birthday. And it has a lot to celebrate.
It’s the recipient of more awards and recognitions than we can list. Most recently, the U.S. Conference of Mayors named Dubuque the “Most Livable” Small City in the U.S for 2008.
But it wasn’t always that way, as Out and About correspondent Dan Kaercher explains.
Twenty-six years ago, in January 1982, unemployment in Dubuque peaked at 23%. It ran over 14% throughout 1983. And between 1980 and 1990 the city lost 7.8%of its population. Those were grim times here.
In 2007, Dubuque received one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious civic awards – it was named one of only 10 All-America cities by the National Civic League.
We came to Dubuque to find out what turned things around.
First stop was the historic federal building where we talked to Mayor Roy D. Buol in the City Council chamber.
Mayor Roy D. Buol, Dubuque: “Really it comes down to collaborating and working together as a team to address all kinds of issues from development to social issues, environmental issues. Everyone works together in Dubuque.”
Dubuque’s turn around began in 1985. The community gambled on gambling, acquiring the first track license in the state for what eventually became the Dubuque Greyhound Park and Casino. A non-profit entity, the city and local charities were designated the primary beneficiaries. But gaming provided much more than money.
Teri Goodmann, National Development Director, Mississippi Museum and Aquarium: “We learned to develop partnerships, we learned to gather together, to leave our egos at the door and create a vision and then implement that vision, make it a reality.”
Teri Goodmann was one of the people who helped develop the next big project: the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium at the Port of Dubuque.
It began with a $2 million dollar bequest. Then, over 7 years, the Museum and Aquarium grew to a $58 million dollar project that includes city, state and federal funds, non-profit and private money and so many public and private entities we can’t list them all.
All that effort turned a county museum into a national and international attraction affiliated with the Smithsonian.
As the project progressed, it grew. The Port also sports a River Walk, the Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark, the Grand River City conference and event center and more, all worth millions more. Now there’s a second phase of development underway.
A rejuvenated Dubuque has also beenrevitalizing it’s downtown. It’s grown more shopping in outlying areas, built 3 new schools, developed industrial sites and just a whole lot more.
And the people here haven’t forgotten those in need.
This building was an old factory in the Washington neighborhood, a declining part ofthe city. Upstairs there are apartments. The ground floor includes the Crescent Community Health Center for low-income people.
There are also some renovated homes in the Washington neighborhood. The homes and the Health Center benefitted from a unique project called H.E.A.R.T. -- Housing Education and RehabilitationTraining. It’s also a partnership involving the private and public sectors, for-profit and non-profit entities.
HEART began training at-risk youth to restore old homes that are affordable for first time buyers.
John Gronen of Gronen Restoration and the Four Mounds Foundation was a co-founder of the program.
John Gronen, Pres. Four Mounds Foundation: “And as far as the youth are concerned, we have, the first year of our program, which was three years ago, there were five seniors. All five graduated from high school. That was not expected.”
HEART students will also likely be involved in the next big project: the Warehouse District Revitalization.
Located just north of the Port of Dubuque,the Warehouse District is 17 city blocks with lots of old warehouses.
The private owners of these buildings and the city want to create a mixed use neighborhood, preserve the historic feel and make it sustainable.
Sustainabilityis a major thread that runs what Dubuque is doing these days. And that means sustaining both the environment and people.
It’s a big challenge.
But it seems pretty likely that if any community can meet the future, it’s this one.
It’s no wonder that the people here call their city the “Masterpiece on the Mississippi.”
Additional Images: Telegraph Herald, Four Mounds Foundation/HEART Program