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City exploring indoor sports complex in Port of Dubuque

City exploring indoor sports complex in Port of Dubuque
Dubuque City Council meeting

Dubuque City Council members will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, July 25, in the second-floor chambers of the Historic Federal Building, 350 W. Sixth St.

The meeting will be shown live on Mediacom cable channels 8 and 117.2, at and at

A full meeting agenda with links containing supporting documents can be found at

Dubuque City Council members this week will examine a consultant’s proposal to build a sports and entertainment center in the Port of Dubuque.

City of Dubuque staff will present the results of a feasibility study examining what such a complex could look like and cost, which could be as much as $161 million.

City Council members will discuss the matter during a work session on Monday, July 25.

The city funded the feasibility study with an Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Technical Assistance Grant. Consultants Vita Nuova and The Sports Facilities Companies met with city officials, economic development and tourism leaders, construction and design firms and major philanthropic funders in Dubuque and gathered input from community members.

The study found a need for indoor sports facilities both for community members and to host traveling sports tournaments.

Mayor Brad Cavanagh told the Telegraph Herald he regularly hears calls for an indoor sports facility.

“The idea of having some sort of indoor sports facility, for more youth sports especially, is one of the ones I hear most from people, so I’m glad we’re going to be having this conversation,” he said.

City Economic Development Director Jill Connors said the grant was not tied to a specific project but that the sports center quickly was identified as a need that could be filled.

“(Consultants) asked us what sort of use they should be studying,” she said. “In our jobs, we hear all the time, ‘We need something for the sports. We need something for the ball tournaments.’ We asked the consultants, ‘Were it to work financially, what would the city have to put into the deal?’”

The consultants developed two different concepts for the facility — one focused chiefly on sports and another that also would incorporate arts and entertainment space. The complex would be located on a 12-acre lot just north of East Fifth Street in the Port of Dubuque.

Both concepts include a 118,000-square-foot indoor field that could be used for both soccer and softball; a 110,000-square-foot collection of courts for basketball, futsal and wrestling; a 200-key hotel; a 70,000-square-foot “restaurant row;” a 30,000-square-foot sports entertainment center; and a 7,500-square-foot clubhouse.

The consultants estimate construction of a facility at that scale would cost $161 million. To help fund the project, the study identifies an opportunity for $25.8 million in federal historic preservation tax credits, $29 million in state historic preservation tax credits and $41.4 million in new market tax credits. Revenues and profits for the facility also could help offset costs.

Connors said the cost estimates were built assuming current construction costs, that the city would want the full buildout and that the city would have no partner in developing the projects.

“If we want something half that size because that’s the right price for us, we can manipulate that,” she said. “That would change the numbers. The tax credits, too, will depend on the type of facility we built, if and when we get to that point. It’s also very likely that we would need partners on this.”

Council Member Katy Wethal represents Ward 4, in which the lot being considered for the facility is located. She said she had a lot of questions about the project and would have to look closely at the financial impact of such a facility.

“I get a lot of questions on entertainment facilities and how that impacts the long-term debt reduction strategy the city has worked so hard on,” she said. “How does the growth serve our citizens? How can our children enjoy that space? How can adults enjoy that space? How do we ensure equity and inclusivity are part of that?”

However, Wethal said she could see a lot of good coming from such a facility.

“That is a space where the people who need those resources the most are,” she said. “I wonder if this is a place where we can work with partners in the community on child care to see if this fits into that conversation. It could transform neighborhoods and give kids the opportunity to be part of things that can be really enriching.”

The lot under consideration was selected for multiple reasons. First, the Brownfields grant required that the city look at areas with “real or perceived” contamination due to prior industrial activity, according to Connors. The study also identified a need for indoor recreation space near downtown and the North End.

Various community leaders have eyed this particular lot for other large projects in the past, such as a dog park, a new facility for the Dubuque Community YMCA/YWCA and a minor league baseball stadium.

Cavanagh said an indoor sports center would fit with the cohesive development the city has envisioned for the Port of Dubuque. Still, Connors said a similar facility could fit elsewhere in the community.

Space to accommodate traveling youth sports tournaments also has been a reason listed to renovate the city’s Five Flags Center. City Council members are expected this fall to discuss options to improve the facility after the council opted not to go forward with a March referendum asking residents to approve the city borrowing up to $92 million to build a new Five Flags.

Cavanagh said a prospective new sports center would not negate needs at Five Flags Center.

“If we want to be the city (we’re striving to be), one ready for growth and to draw people in, we need a Five Flags that is an event center and we need to do more to attract this sports piece,” he said. “I don’t necessarily see those two locations as needing to be the same.”