Five Flags commission recommends public referendum for $89.7 million expansion project

A commission is recommending Dubuque hold a referendum next year for voters to decide whether they want to pay to build a new Five Flags Center.
Published: Apr. 25, 2022 at 10:49 PM CDT
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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - A commission is recommending Dubuque hold a referendum next year for voters to decide whether they want to pay to build a new Five Flags Center.

Members of the city’s Five Flags Civic Center Commission are recommending Dubuque council members not allow the money in that referendum vote to exceed $89.7 million. They also want to allow venue manager ASM Global and the city’s administration to explore other funding opportunities for the project.

The project to create a new Five Flags Center in downtown Dubuque has been met with opposition through the years, particularly because it would increase property taxes. City documents state that, if a referendum is held and passed and the project was financed over 20 years, Dubuque’s financial advisor has calculated the property tax impact to the average homeowner, based on an average home value of $159,503, would be $193.28 the first year and would decrease each year until it reaches $161.59 the final year.

”Every landlord I talked to is going to pass this tax increase along to their renters,” John Pregler, who spoke at a Five Flags commission meeting on Monday, said. “They are going to raise their rents $100, $150 per unit to cover the next ten years. They are going to use this as the excuse and it is going to raise rent across the board for low income people that already are struggling.”

The $89.7 million calls for demolishing the existing Five Flags Center arena, improving the Five Flags Theater, and developing a new, state-of-the-industry arena via a northward expansion of the center’s current footprint. An analysis by Conventions, Sports & Leisure International (CSL) and Betsch Associates states this would increase capacity to nearly 6,400 for concert events and 6,000 for arena floor events.

The project was initially expected to cost around $74.34 million, but the updated analysis increases the price tag by almost 20.7 percent. CSL’s report states the higher cost is due, in part, to disruption issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation.

Commission members said on Monday that doing nothing and leaving the center as it currently stands is not an option.

”This building cannot stay as is for very long,” commission member McKenzie Blau said. “It is costing a lot of money just to maintain. We cannot put a Band-Aid over these issues, something is seriously going to need to be done.”

CSL’s analysis increased projected annual revenues from $1.75 million to $1.96 million and expenses from $2.1 million to $2.2 million. It also indicates a reduction in the facility’s annual operating deficit from $856,000 to approximately $252,000, which translates to a 70 percent reduction.

Commission members added a new center could impact job retention by improving quality of life and bringing more people to spend money at local businesses.

“We do not have the requirements or the facility for me to go out and attract bigger events, national tournaments for wrestling or volleyball, and with an expansion that is something now that we can throw our name in the hat,” commission member Tyler Daugherty mentioned.

The recommendation will now go before the Dubuque city council for approval at its next meeting.

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