DRA board approves work on creating Schmitt Island development plan

January gaming revenue

Dubuque’s casinos saw a slight increase in gaming revenue figures for January.

Diamond Jo Casino and Q Casino reported a combined $9.43 million in gaming revenue in January, up 1% from the January 2022 total of $9.33 million.

Diamond Jo reported $5.55 million in gaming revenue in January, a slight increase from $5.49 million in the same period the previous year. Q Casino generated $3.88 million in January, up from $3.84 million in the same period the previous year.

The nonprofit license holder for Dubuque’s two casinos has approved work on a comprehensive development plan for Chaplain Schmitt Island.

Board members of the DRA approved a proposal with RDG Planning & Design to create a development plan for the island today at Diamond Jo Casino during the board’s monthly meeting. The nonprofit DRA will invest $302,660 into the creation of the plan.

“I’m grateful that we’re here to talk about how Schmitt Island can raise the tide here in Dubuque and how we can use Schmitt Island as a tool to spur economic development and make us the great destination we want to become,” Alex Dixon, president and CEO of DRA and Q Casino, said at the meeting. “Great ideas exist. Now, we need a plan.”

RDG Planning and Design staff will review existing master plans for Schmitt Island as part of their work, as well as complete further studies on the island, including on the current infrastructure and potential economic impact of future development.

Ryan Peterson, senior partner at RDG Planning & Design, said the development plan will take about nine months of work and then an additional three months for review, approval and adoption. After the plan is complete, it would need to be approved by both the DRA board and Dubuque City Council.

Peterson said creating the development plan will include working with agencies who outline floodplain boundaries to see how much of the island’s land can be developed, as well as ways the island can be accessed in a variety of ways, including on foot, bike, vehicle or water taxi. In addition, he said, RDG Design will work with the City of Dubuque Leisure Services Department to look into opportunities for park development.

“It’s an exciting opportunity,” Peterson said. “It’s an opportunity to bring clarity, specificity, cost and prioritization to things we already know are beautiful, but they are untapped resources we can begin to elevate.”

DRA officials previously have shared potential ideas for projects on the island, including plans for an outdoor amphitheater at the site of the old greyhound racing track and trail connections.

The City of Dubuque in October applied for a $7.3 million Destination Iowa grant, which is supported through federal American Rescue Plan Act money, to go toward the the amphitheater and trail connections, which are expected to cost $18.35 million.

Dixon said after the meeting that local officials have not heard back yet on the status of the grant application.

“We are preparing behind the scenes for if and when we do get that call,” he said.

Kathy Buhr, director of strategic philanthropy and Schmitt Island development for the DRA, also said today that members of both Leadership Dubuque and Young Professionals Dubuque have expressed interest in getting involved with a proposed project to light the Dubuque-Wisconsin bridge. Buhr said those discussions currently are in very early stages.

Following the completion of the development plan, DRA officials and board members will be able to prioritize projects on the island, Dixon said.

“What this allows us as an organization, and really a community, to do is to take all the great ideas, take all the great options and, in some cases, say no,” he said. “But by prioritizing, we’re going to say yes to great things. It may be an amphitheater. It may be a water taxi. But unless we do the work, unless we’re inclusive, we will continue to be in the path of continuing to circle around a lot of great ideas and nothing gets done.”

Further development at Schmitt Island comes in addition to an at-least-$75 million renovation at Q Casino. The project — which should be completed by 2025 — includes remodeling the main casino area, adding a family entertainment area, constructing a new hotel tower and upgrading the facility’s facade.

Dixon said today that demolition work already has started on the first phase of the casino project, which consists of constructing a temporary casino in the facility’s upper level to allow main casino renovations to begin. The temporary space will be in the former greyhound racing grandstand viewing area and connect to existing gaming space on the upper level.

“I have a great sense of pride in all the work we’re doing,” Dixon said. “It really is a great beacon of hope.”