More than three months into the full throes of a pandemic, just about everything looks different in 2020.
Wise leaders will realize the sea change in our lifestyles, our workplaces and our economy calls for a recalibration.
Decisions made and conclusions reached before the pandemic should be revisited to consider whether the tenets they were based upon have shifted.
That brings us to the discussion of building a new Five Flags Center.
The City of Dubuque commission that oversees the facility and has recommended a significant and costly expansion voted unanimously last week to postpone a citywide vote on the issue until Sept. 14, 2021.
No question, the vote, originally scheduled for this September, needed to be postponed.
But with the vision that 2020 has brought, leaders must review more than just the date of the referendum.
Even before the pandemic, it was difficult to see a path to approval for the plan, which called for the city borrowing up to $74.3 million to demolish the current Five Flags and construct a facility that stretches across West Fifth Street, increasing the capacity from 4,000 seats to more than 6,400. At least 60% of voters would need to back the measure for it to pass.
Supporters believe the larger venue would allow Five Flags to attract bigger acts, bring in more revenue and provide a popular amenity, which could help attract and retain workforce.
But there was a strong and vocal presence of doubt in the community that opposed the idea. Under the best of circumstances, its passage would be an uphill climb.
And these are not the best of circumstances.
Dubuque County’s unemployment rate soared past — and remains above — that experienced during the past recession. Virtually every business has felt the impact of COVID-19, and some might never recover. Nonprofits have lost events and fundraisers while needs have in many cases ballooned. The city and county coffers are down, and officials are combing through budgets for places to cut. At what point arenas packed with concertgoers will return is still unknown.
Our community will be in recovery mode for a while. The timing just isn’t right to discuss and promote a plan to borrow tens of millions of dollars for a bigger and better Five Flags. Winning support seemed like a long shot to begin with; now, it seems even more unlikely.
The Five Flags Civic Center Commission pored over options and studied this issue for months. Perhaps that group could recommend a less-involved, less-expensive option that could be more palatable. Acknowledging voter misgivings and presenting another option might go a long way toward winning over a majority.
Many things have changed this year because of COVID-19. It only makes sense to review and revisit decisions made before we knew what 2020 would bring. This Five Flags expansion might have been a tough sell without the pandemic. Supporters would be wise to pivot to a more realistic plan.