Historic Dubuque Malting and Brewing building has long history of public safety concerns

Published: Aug. 22, 2023 at 10:24 PM CDT
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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - A historic Dubuque building not only has a long history in the city, but it also has a long history of being a public safety concern.

Recently, Dubuque city leaders sent letters to those who live and work near the old Dubuque Malting and Brewing building on Jackson Street. In those letters, the city said an inspection found 10 different areas of concern. i9 obtained nearly two decades’ worth of documents showing the city has been finding problems for years.

In those documents, the city said the building was a public safety threat or risk of collapsing in 2016, 2017, 2021, and this year. Another document from a city inspector said the building suffered from a lack of general maintenance in 2014.

Curtis Knapp, the owner of the ‘Duck Duck Drive’ car dealership and repair shop next to the Dubuque Malting and Brewing building, said he didn’t know about the history of safety concerns when he opened his business next door.

“I didn’t know as much as I am learning now,” he said.

Knapp’s biggest concern was the city needing to close a portion of Jackson Street for public safety.


“Over the years there have been various issues in the building,” said Dubuque Assistant Housing Director and Code Official, Michael Belmont. “The same issues have not been identified over and over. They were addressed to some degree.”

Belmont said the building’s issues have gotten progressively worse. Despite Iowa law allowing a city to take ownership of a building, it hasn’t.

“We have to take into account that there are private rules, that this is owned by somebody else, it isn’t owned by the city,” he said. “It’s in a conservation district. We base our actions on the analysis of structural engineers.

Cedar Rapids Developer, Steve Emerson, bought the building in 2017. He gave i9 this statement:

“I actually spend most of the day today on site with two structural engineers that specialize in historic masonry restoration, two masons, two general contractors an architect, and my team. The demolition contractors will be on site tomorrow to review the work. The thoughts and observations were somewhat refreshing. There is concern in some very specific locations, and we have already stabilized the worst of it and have a plan to stabilize the other areas. These engineers are experts on historic masonry lanes and specialize in this exact building. They do not share all of the same concerns as the engineers the city found. It’s pretty easy for an engineer to question a bunch of issues and walk away. The hard work is to identify the real issues and determine the design to stabilize them but also to state emphatically others are non-issues.

I have absolutely no ties to Dubuque. I bought this building before I visited it simply to save it. I have been designing multiple concepts and exploring every angle possible to find the funds to save them. To this date, we have been able to identify several grant opportunities and think we have a strategy that will work financially. We will be demoing sections of the wall towards the back that are not stabilized at the floors. These walls have stood like this for 120 years and are now being observed to be away from the main structure. Removing these walls is the only approach that meets the City’s imposed timeline.

Our goal is to demolish areas that concern the City and do not have ornate historic fabric. We will stabilize the front section that frankly cannot be rebuilt in similar glory. Then we will pursue state and federal grants that come around in the spring. With these grants and the strong support of the City, we will be able to start construction of this very worthy project in about a year. Without the State & Federal Grants as well as the local support, there is no future for this building.”

Knapp just wants Jackson Street to open so people can see what cars he has available.

“The fastest way to solve the problem would be to take the building down,” said Knapp. “It sucks, it’s a really pretty building and there’s a lot of history there but ultimately I don’t know if it’s that savable.”