Dubuque, Iowa at a Glance
Location: At the junction of Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin in the eastern part of the state
Access: Dubuque Regional Airport; interstates 80, 90 and 35 via U.S. highways 61 and 20
Major Meeting Spaces: Grand River Center, Hotel Julien Dubuque, Holiday Inn Dubuque/Galena
Hotel Rooms: 1,808
Off-Site Venues: Celebration Belle, Millwork Ballroom and Event Center, National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium
Perched on the mighty Mississippi River, Dubuque is the oldest city in Iowa, first settled by fur trader Julien Dubuque in 1785. And even though the city’s history and architecture bring its past to the forefront, it continues to invest in its future.
Dubuque sits in the southeast corner of the state, where Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois meet, and is easily reached via daily flights from Chicago O’Hare. The city is connected to its neighbors by major four-lane highways going in all directions. It is about an hour-and-a-half drive to Madison, Wisconsin, and about three and a half hours to Chicago.
The Mississippi River is a huge part of what makes the city tick and is the primary reason the city was chartered in 1837. The river brought in settlers who built boats, milled lumber, mined the area’s abundant lead deposits and took advantage of the large swaths of open prairie and plains to grow crops and raise cattle.
Meeting planners love the area because of the river, the plethora of lodging, the nearby casinos and riverboats and its proximity to Wisconsin and Illinois. The city has slowly invested more than $400 million into a former industrial site along the river. Called Port Dubuque, the area is home to the Grand River Center, the city’s 86,000-square-foot conference center, a large aquarium and museum, a world class brewery and a beautiful trail called the Mississippi Riverwalk.
The Grand River Center boasts a 30,000-square-foot exhibit hall for large meetings or trade shows; the Grand Ballroom, which can host formal gatherings for up to 1,000 guests in its 12,000 square feet; and the third-floor River Room, which features floor-to-ceiling windows and a large balcony that hovers over the Mississippi Riverwalk with stunning views of the water.
“It is great for breaks,” said Julie Kronlage, vice president of sales for Travel Dubuque. “People can step out and get fresh air, see a barge going through the lock and dam and all the boat traffic on the Mississippi.”
Meeting by the Sea
The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium was built as part of the Port Dubuque redevelopment. Its many exhibits highlight the Mississippi River Valley, including the stories of settlers, Native Americans, boat building and commerce in Dubuque. The aquarium features animals commonly found in and around the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.
Event planners can host themed events for up to 1,500 people incorporating the different exhibits or plan a company picnic on the harbor-facing outdoor plaza. The 30-foot-long, 40,000-gallon saltwater tank makes an impressive backdrop for any event. Guests can wander the museum and commune with various aquatic creatures as part of their event.
Grand Harbor Resort
The Grand Harbor Resort is a premier meeting hotel joined to Dubuque’s conference center in Port Dubuque via an enclosed, climate-controlled skywalk. With 193 guest rooms and smaller meeting spaces that can accommodate up to 100 guests, the resort is a perfect complement to the Grand River Center.
The 25,000-square-foot indoor water park makes the location great for meeting attendees who want to bring their families along, and Tony Roma’s Restaurant offers a classic dining experience for those who want to stay on-property. The Grand Harbor Resort is within walking distance of the National Mississippi River Museum and the Diamond Jo Casino.
Historic Millwork District
Dubuque’s next great entertainment epicenter is the historic millwork district, where the lumber going up and down the Mississippi River was made into windows and doors. Its cavernous warehouses now play host to breweries, retail shops, quaint restaurants and coffee shops. The Millwork Ballroom and Event Center is nestled in the center of the district. The beautiful brick building with its gorgeous wood beams makes for memorable meetings or evening receptions. The grand ballroom can accommodate 450 guests, and the junior ballroom can host 175. The area is also home to three bars and two restaurants.
Meeting planners love to take their guests out on the 750-passenger paddle-wheeler Celebration Belle for a scenic cruise along the Mississippi River. The boat features three different levels of food and entertainment. The Diamond Jo Casino is a great stop to gamble, see a show, go bowling or dine out at any of its five restaurants.
For something a bit different, groups can take part in the Amazing Race Dubuque scavenger hunt, take a walking tour of Dubuque’s 40 murals or visit the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area, which is the site of the area’s first lead mine and the original home of the Mesquakie tribe.