Article - Feb 16, 2023

Dubuque: Renaissance on the Mississippi’s riverfront

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.

No one else has replicated this development on the Mississippi.”
Julie Kronlage, Vice President of Sales, 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 andimprovements 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.

The Port’s success also sparked revitalization nearby in the Old Main District, where owners put $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 often supplies meeting groups with small bags of quarters to use at the arcade.

Ongoing revitalization has meant there’s always something new to explore in Dubuque. “Planners say, ‘Even though we were here a couple of years ago, we did something different this time,’ ” said Kronlage. One way to see how Dubuque has changed is by using the CVB’s Scavenger Hunt app, which is tweaked every year to keep group scavenger hunts, on foot or by car, fresh.