By scheduling a series of Nov. 18 public hearings, the Dubuque City Council this week put the approval wheels in motion for a $20 million project to build apartments and retail space in the Port of Dubuque.
The hearing concerns a development agreement between city government and Merge Urban Development Group — it has offices in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Madison, Wis. — which would have the city granting the limited liability company tax incentives, including Urban Renewal Tax Increment Revenue Grant.
Merge proposes a six-story structure on 1.22 acres along Fifth Street, just west (behind) the headquarters of Flexsteel Industries. The first floor would feature retail space while the remaining five floors would offer some 180 residential units. The apartments would range in size from 400-square-foot “microresidential” units to 900-square-foot models with two bedrooms.
Given the interest, especially among younger adults, in living closer to downtown, and considering how another major housing proposal — the ambitious project to renovate the historic former brewery at 30th and Jackson streets — seems to be stuck in place, it’s positive to see this initiative coming together.
Rick Dickinson, president and CEO of Greater Dubuque Development Corp., which recognizes the vital importance of housing inventory in maintaining and building local workforce, told the TH that this project would address a “definite need” for rental units in the city, where quality units are hard to come by.
Brent Dahlstrom, a Merge partner, told the TH the other day, “The location is perfect, both for the community and for the occupants of the apartments. He added, “It would have great access to amenities and employment downtown, and it is an absolutely appropriate use of that space.”
This “perfect” location is within one of the newly created Opportunity Zones, which were established under the federal Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017. According to the Iowa Department of Economic Development website, Opportunity Zones are to “encourage long-term, private investments in low-income census tracts by providing a federal tax incentive for taxpayers who reinvest unrealized capital gains” there. While one might question how the Port of Dubuque could be considered “low-income” — adjacent neighborhoods are likely closer to what officials had in mind — the location does fall within a low-income census tract and thus qualifies.
The proposal has the support of Mayor Roy Buol, who describes it as a “substantial addition to our Port of Dubuque area.”
Developers, who emphasized that the entire project is contingent on city approval of the proposed agreements, say the structure will include such amenities as a gym, courtyard and fifth-floor patio. And, by the way, it will be pet-friendly.
Speaking of pets, this project is more in line with sound use of Port real estate than a proposal pitched to city officials during the summer — a 12-acre dog park. While earmarking a dozen acres worth millions for dogs to play and poop is still not the wisest use of the port, if hundreds of dogs are going to be residing in the neighborhood, a modest area on the fringe of the property might make sense.
But, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s observe and support the city approval process — next are the public hearings of Nov. 18.