20 years in, Grand River Center staff looking to future

Community celebration

A community open house celebrating Grand River Center’s 20th anniversary will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28.

The free event will include area vendors and community organizations, complimentary food and bounce houses, among other offerings.

Staff at a Dubuque events center hope recent leadership changes and a renewed focus on community engagement will help raise the riverfront facility’s profile as it celebrates a milestone year.

Grand River Center will mark its 20th anniversary this weekend with a free community celebration to recognize the event center’s past, present and future.

The event will include activities for kids and adults. Booths and activities from several area vendors and community organizations will be on hand, said Grand River Center General Manager Ryan Bonifas. Shopping, refreshments and entertainment also will be available.

“I’ve always been one to say we should celebrate accomplishments small, medium or large, but reaching 20 years in such a beautiful city landmark, that’s definitely a big one,” said Bonifas, a recent addition to the center’s staff. “And we wanted to celebrate that with the community.”

Grand River Center first opened in November 2003 as part of a series of improvements and investments along the riverfront that also included the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, Alliant Energy Amphitheater and more.

The city-owned building since has been used for countless private and public events, including weddings, conferences and community programs, and city leaders look to continue that utilization.

In March, Dubuque City Council members approved a management agreement for Grand River Center with OVG360, a department of Los Angeles-based Oak View Group. It previously was managed by Platinum Hospitality Group LLC.

City Manager Mike Van Milligen said the city has been pleased with OVG360 since it assumed management of the facility and is hopeful the company next can expand the center’s local and regional footprint.

“The center has been a tremendous success … and we look forward to seeing the facility grow,” he said. “Dubuque has a rich tradition of being an attractive place to visit and conduct business like meetings and conferences, and (this facility) is a huge part of that.”

Bonifas said center staff similarly are interested in expanding the facility’s reach. They recently hired a new chef and are looking to expand their events calendar with a focus on attracting new clients.

Working with Oak View Group — which manages event facilities nationwide — also allows Grand River Center staff to capitalize on the company’s national and global connections, Bonifas said, which in turn allows the center to host more events and provide higher-quality offerings.

“The OV Group is pretty much worldwide,” he said. “So we can pick up the phone and ask how they handled a client somewhere for a certain event or try to route clients from one OV Group location to another.”

Bonifas said there also is an ongoing push to incentivize community engagement and return customers, with an emphasis on opening up the location to the Dubuque community.

The events center perhaps is known best by area residents for its recognizable “River Room,” a glass-walled gathering space overlooking the Mississippi River, but it also has several other meeting rooms for events of all sizes.

“This venue is open for everyone,” Bonifas said. “We’re excited to reach out to local entities to talk with those groups about what we’re all about and what we have to offer.”

Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Events & Programs Justine Paradiso said the chamber has worked with Grand River Center multiple times in the past, calling it a “wonderful partner.”

The chamber has hosted luncheons, fundraisers and other events at the center, and each has gone off without a hitch regardless of the event size or scale, Paradiso said.

She credited center staff with much of that success and expressed a desire to see the facility continue to flourish, adding that its success has an undeniable ripple effect for other area businesses.

“The visitors there aren’t just going to the event center. They’re staying at our hotels and visiting our restaurants and shopping at our boutiques,” she said. “(Grand River Center) has really become a part of the economic vitality of Dubuque.”