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Iowa Meeting Guide: Dubuque tied to the Mississippi

Courtesy Dubuque CVB

In 1839, weary travelers who crossed the Mississippi River to reach Dubuque were relieved to spot the Waples House on Second and Main streets, a hotel celebrated for its fine dining and luxurious decor.

Later renamed the Hotel Julien for the town’s namesake, Julien Dubuque, the hotel’s guests have reportedly included Abraham Lincoln, Buffalo Bill Cody and Mark Twain. It was rebuilt after a fire in in 1913.

Today, after falling out of favor for a time, the hotel is back. A  $36 million renovation completed in 2009 has restored its elegance, inside and out, and the rechristened Hotel Julien Dubuque has come to symbolize downtown Dubuque’s renaissance.

The hotel has 133 rooms and suites, including the two-bedroom Al Capone Suite, a nod to the former guest.

“Dubuque has really been put on the map in the last 10 years,” said Mark Czeshinski, the hotel’s director of sales.

The Hotel Julien’s recent additions are a spa and a fitness center with a pool. Most of its 15,000 square feet of meeting space is on the atrium level, where the Capone suite is located.

A 3,460-square-foot ballroom with 17-foot-high ceilings can be combined with the 2,806-square-foot Fleur de Lis room for banquets of up to 400.

The hotel is near the Port of Dubuque, a dining and entertainment area that is also home to the Grand River Center.

“The center is a block away,” said Czeshinski. “It’s wonderful to be able to work together.”

The 86,000-square-foot center, built in 2003, has a 12,000-square-foot ballroom, a 30,000-square-foot exhibit hall and 12,000 square feet of meeting space. It not only sports river views but is also near the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.

An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the museum in 2010 doubled the size of its campus and added the National River Center, which focuses on all the rivers in North America that affect oceans. A 3-D/4-D theater introduces wind, rain, lights, fog and even scent into the room. The  staff can manually control the effects.

“You could enter the room with strobe lights, fog and the seats shaking,” said John Sutter, director of marketing and communication.

A plaza with a pavilion, located between the two major buildings on the 10-acre campus, can serve as a cocktail or event space for about 100 people. In May, the city cut the ribbon on a project in the Millwork District that makes streets accessible to drivers, bikers and pedestrians.

“Dubuque is really growing,” Czeshinski said. And for planners, it’s growing in the right direction.