Dubuque’s always benefited from being on the Mississippi River. But 20 years ago, Iowa’s oldest city further capitalized on its location by reimagining its riverfront. In doing so, it triggered downtown revitalization that has made the city a more appealing meeting place.
Development of the Port of Dubuque got things rolling. Today, this riverfront district is convention central, home to the Grand River Center, attached 193-room Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark and entertainment and off-site venues including the Diamond Jo Casino, the Smithsonian-affiliated National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, authentic paddle wheelers and a winery tasting room.
“What has been done in the Port of Dubuque, has put Dubuque top of mind for many planners, you don’t find a space like this to many other places in the country.” said Julie Kronlage, vice president of sales for Travel Dubuque.
In addition to a 30,000-square-foot exhibit hall, 12,000-square-foot ballroom and six meeting rooms, the Grand River Center offers the dramatic all-glass River Room, perched above the river, with all-around views. The conference center has stayed at the forefront, winning multiple meeting awards, thanks to consistent upkeep and improvements like an upgrade of its fiber option network, which made it possible for each of 800 attendees at a recent conference to use up to three devices.
More To Love
The Port’s success also sparked revitalization nearby in the Old Main District, where owners have invested $33 million into the Hotel Julien Dubuque 12 years ago. A natural for smaller meetings and elegant events, the historic hotel has 133 luxury rooms, a spa, a restaurant and lounge and 14,000 square feet of meeting space with century-old architectural details.
The city’s energy is now aimed at the Millwork District, where brick warehouses are becoming apartments, coffee shops, boutiques, bars, restaurants and breweries, including Backpocket Taproom, which has added pinball, skeeball and other vintage arcade games. Travel Dubuque will often support meetings by sponsoring a night at the arcade.
Ongoing revitalization has meant there’s always something new to explore in Dubuque. “Planners say, ‘Even though we were here last year or a couple of years ago, we did something different at this meeting, which is refreshing,’” said Kronlage. One way Travel Dubuque keeps people learning and exploring the community is through its scavenger hunt app, which gets attendees out on foot or by car for great team building activities.
Dreams And Coffee
Not all of Dubuque’s attractions are downtown. Its best-known off-site venue, the Field of Dreams movie site, is 25 miles west. Tents and a 5,000-square-foot event center are options for events at the field, which is bordered from July until fall harvest by cornstalks, just as it was in the movie that made it famous.
More than a century ago, Dubuque rivaled Chicago in size, and though the Windy City far surpasses it today, Dubuque offers advantages that the larger city doesn’t. The riverfront is one. Coffee is another. In Chicago, a gallon of coffee can cost $150 at an upscale, downtown hotel. In Dubuque, the cost is $23 or less. And that, for many a budget-wise meeting planner, is a big reason to choose Dubuque.
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