A Dubuque nonprofit today will launch a $13.1 million capital campaign to help complete construction of a community center, vocational training space and child care facility.
Officials with Steeple Square already raised $11.9 million from private donors during the “quiet” fundraising phase, according to board Treasurer Judy Wolf. They hope to raise about $500,000 from the community and will round out financing through tax credits and grants.
“We recognized the importance of having a very solid base before we went out to the community campaign,” Wolf said.
Community buy-in is key, according to Jack McCullough, a Steeple Square past president and executive board member.
“Basically, it’s the final phase of the overall campaign,” he said. “We’re reaching out to the entire community to be part of saving this Dubuque landmark.”
The former St. Mary’s Catholic Church complex, located at the intersection of East 15th and White streets, already has undergone a significant transformation since it was rebranded as Steeple Square.
The Francis Apartments opened in 2017, providing permanent housing to eight graduates of the Maria House and Teresa Shelter, which are programs for homeless women operated by nonprofit Opening Doors. The steeple itself also recently underwent a substantial — and award-winning — renovation process.
The event center — formerly the church sanctuary — already is being utilized, according to Wolf.
“We’ve had weddings there. We’ve had celebrations of life there,” she said. “Those are the for-profit type of things where the revenue will be used to subsidize child care and other mission-related work.”
The lower level of the main building is where the bulk of the vocational training — some in partnership with Northeast Iowa Community College — will take place.
Steeple Square officials also hope to open a section of an interior floor for a stairway that will lead to revamped restrooms. They also want to restore the vestibule of the church, a project that initially was slated to be completed earlier in the renovation process.
“During construction, (crews) unearthed some old stenciling and historic features we wanted to be able to preserve,” Wolf said. “We’ll be starting on that work sometime soon.”
Work is underway on the Marita Theisen Childcare Center, which will open Aug. 26 in the former St. Mary’s rectory. Space will be available for up to 72 children — at least 30% of whom will come from low-income families.
“We’re actually just starting to advertise for child care,” Wolf said. “We certainly encourage people to check out our space. Though it’s not finished, it’s a very homelike space. A lot of natural lighting. A lot of history in the building itself.”
Much of the money will be used for capital projects. But some will be applied to Steeple Square’s sustainability fund, which will be used to subsidize child care operations.
“(Donors are) not only saving an architecturally significant landmark, but we’re also revitalizing the neighborhood,” McCullough said. “Part of the program, too, is helping other nonprofits, like Opening Doors.”
Supporters of the project include Lynn “Tut” Fuller, president and CEO of Dubuque Bank & Trust and a board member with True North, a neighborhood revitalization effort that works in tandem with Steeple Square efforts.
Fuller stressed “the importance of reinvesting in our community.”
“That’s a cornerstone of what I think makes Dubuque unique and something that we need to continue,” he said.
This project in particular is special because of its potential to have a major impact on a neighborhood that could benefit from some extra attention.
“We’re very lucky to have these assets,” Fuller said. “And we’ve done a good job leveraging these beautiful historical assets for all they can be. ... It’s not just a landmark. It’s a landmark that’s being made into something that serves the neighborhood in which it is (located).”
Steeple Square officials will host a kick-off event from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 18. Drinks will be available, and there will be live music from Tapestry.
“It’s an opportunity for a little fundraising (and to give) people a chance to see the space in a social setting,” Wolf said.