Dubuque voters rightfully will get their say on whether they support a $75 million plan to reconstruct Five Flags Center.
And there will be plenty of time for the details to be scrutinized, considered and debated.
City Council members voted, 6-1, last week to put a measure related to the project on the ballot for Sept. 8, opting for a longer timeline than the March 3 election previously under consideration.
That was a sensible move. A March vote would have required that the language on the ballot be finalized by the end of this week. This is too big of a decision to have anything feel rushed. The September vote gives officials until mid-summer to determine exactly how much taxpayers would be expected to fund.
Some voters undoubtedly have already made up their minds about the project.
There are those who simply don’t want to see their taxes increased for a bigger Five Flags, particularly one that still projects as needing an annual subsidy.
There are those who believe a new, larger facility would be a positive amenity for Dubuque, especially at a time when the city is trying to attract a younger workforce and build its tourism profile.
And there are a whole lot of people who feel both ways.
Sure, a cool, new facility would be nice. But would it be worth the cost? Would it really bring in more big acts, and if so, would that translate into increased tourism dollars?
Those are the questions that supporters of the project have to speak to and that voters have to carefully consider.
Some points to keep in mind:
- Amenities such as municipal pools, parks, trails — and civic centers — don’t pay for themselves. We support them with our tax dollars to make our communities better places to live and work.
- Five Flags’ impact extends beyond its events’ audiences. It has become an important part of the downtown economy and remains an attractive selling point as we recruit new residents.
- General Manager H.R. Cook has a good track record of not just ramping up the caliber of the big entertainment acts at Five Flags, but of also getting people in the doors for other reasons, such as Wags at the Flags indoor dog park during the winter. His high confidence level in the success of a bigger facility is encouraging.
- Whatever the decision, some of the conditions of the current facility are bad and only are getting worse. If the measure in September is rejected, the council will have to consider at least $5 million in fixes to the current site.
Regarding some of the contributing factors to get to $75 million, voters will want to hear more about the city’s math.
- Is $5 million in naming rights realistic? Does the city have any realistic prospects?
- The city suggests $5 million will come from a $1.50-per-ticket surcharge. How many years will it take to sell 3.3 million tickets?
- Another $5 million is designated to come from event parking fees. Will parking ramps cost more during events? Will the city run parking meters at night? Or where will that money come from?
After two years of study and debate, it’s time to let voters decide. But the discussion is far from over. Proponents and opponents should provide the community with as clear a picture as possible.
Voters should take this decision seriously and consider what’s best for the long-term health of Dubuque.