Dubuque presents updated designs for plaza in Central Avenue plan

Dubuque city officials on Tuesday presented redesigned proposals to create a public plaza along a major downtown roadway.

Attendees of a public meeting had the chance to see two proposed redesigns for the Central Avenue Streetscape Master Plan after businesses and property owners complained about plans for a plaza at the intersection of Central Avenue and East 18th Street. About 20 people attended the meeting, which was presented by the city’s Economic Development Department at the Multicultural Family Center.

The plan, which calls for converting Central from 11th to 22nd streets from a one-way road to a two-way thoroughfare, originally proposed closing East 18th Street at its intersection with Central to construct the plaza.

The proposed redesigns would keep East 18th Street open and create additional parking.

The modifications were made in response to concerns from business and property owners on Central who feared that the creation of the plaza would reduce parking availability.

“There was concern about closing the street, but I would say the biggest concern was actually parking,” said Ryan Peterson, of RDG Planning & Design, which is developing the Central Avenue plan with the city. “We’ve heard from people saying that we want the site to accommodate multiple uses.”

The original plan presented to Dubuque City Council in 2019 called for converting Central from 11th to 22nd streets to a two-way road and reducing the street width to expand the size of sidewalks and greenery, along with closing East 18th Street between Central Avenue and White Street for the plaza. The project aims to redevelop Central in an effort to spur economic growth along the roadway.

While the project stalled during the pandemic, city leaders this year started working to update the plan by gathering input from local business and property owners.

The two redesign options presented on Tuesday would retain many elements of the original plan but would make changes to the proposed plaza.

Both options would keep the affected stretch of East 18th Street open and create a smaller plaza next to it. Additional parking would be created along East 19th Street, and green alleys would be constructed between Central Avenue and White Street to connect 18th Street and 17th Street.

The two redesign options differ in their approach to developing the plaza.

The first option would create a plaza that entirely blocks off access to East 18th Street from Central Avenue, though traffic still could access the portion of East 18th Street behind the plaza near White Street. The second option would create a one-way road next to the plaza that could channel vehicles on Central Avenue onto East 18th Street.

Meeting attendees varied in which design option they preferred. Proponents of the first design option said it would provide the safest pedestrian access for residents and that a roadway next to the plaza could pose a safety risk.

“I just see so many more pros to (the first design option) for the foot traffic,” said Michaela Freiburger, program coordinator for Dubuque County Energy District and a Small Business Development Center consultant. “I just see (the second option) as a safety concern, even though there is a walking area.”

Several attendees said the second option provides a necessary access point to East 18th Street and one of the more prominent businesses on Central Avenue, Key City Creative Center, which is at the corner of 18th and Central. Without the access road from Central Avenue to East 18th Street, people only could access Key City Creative Center via White Street.

Tim Hitzler, founder of Key City Creative Center, said he believes having the additional access road to East18th Street wouldn’t take away much from the proposed plaza and stressed that any redesign of Central Avenue should work to benefit all existing and potential businesses.

“Flexibility is key,” Hitzler said. “There are a lot of unknowns at this point.”

Peterson said the city and RDG will continue to gather input on the redesigns of the Central Avenue Corridor Streetscape Master Plan and eventually present it to Dubuque City Council in a future work session.

Dave Lyons, sustainable innovations consultant with Greater Dubuque Development Corp., said the ultimate goal of the project is to spur further investment in the corridor.

“We would want to get started yet this year,” he said.