CORRECTED: Dubuque sees dramatic increase in building projects in 2021

CORRECTED: An earlier version of this story provided incorrect information regarding the project at the Mount Carmel campus in Dubuque. 

The total value of construction in Dubuque in 2021 for which permits were issued saw a dramatic increase of 137% compared to the prior year.

Construction permits submitted to the city last year totaled $228.7 million in value, far exceeding 2020’s $96 million and even surpassing pre-COVID-19 pandemic 2019, when building permits totaled $150 million in value.

The substantial boom in total valuation stems from a number of high-cost commercial projects in the city during the spring and summer months. Overall, building projects in Dubuque bounced back from the tepid number seen in 2020, which was largely caused by the pandemic.

Rick Dickinson, CEO and president of Greater Dubuque Development Corp., attributed the year’s performance to “pent-up demand” for both residential and commercial development, much of which was stalled in 2020.

“We have a very vibrant regional economy where housing is scarce and new companies are coming into the market,” Dickinson said. “You add it all up, and it’s easy to see why there is more than $200 million in growth.”

In 2021, the city approved 1,512 building permits, about a 33% increase compared to last year. City permits are issued for a wide variety of construction projects, ranging from the construction of new commercial buildings to the renovation of existing homes.

While the number of permits issued in 2021 is not as dramatic as the increase in overall valuation, the number of high-cost projects in Dubuque this year greatly boosted the overall valuation seen in building permits in 2021.

The largest project of the year was the construction of a 162,000-square-foot apartment complex structure at the Mount Carmel campus for area seniors, including the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Valued at $35 million, the project by the BVMs and Presbyterian Homes & Services is the second phase of a larger $90 million project to transform the campus.

Reached by the Telegraph Herald on Thursday, Libby Newlin, with Senior Housing Partners and Presbyterian Homes & Services, provided the following emailed comment.

“Mount Carmel Bluffs is adding 116 senior apartments to its new campus. The addition will provide greater access to housing and care services for older adults in eastern Iowa.”

Several other notable high-cost projects occurred in Dubuque in 2021, including a $27 million project to construct additions to Dubuque Senior High School, the renovation of a warehouse at 7200 Chavenelle Road for $16 million for the creation of a new Amazon facility and the renovation of the lower level, first and ninth floor and rooftop level of the Roshek Building for $15.5 million.

Throughout the year, the city also saw numerous permits for smaller residential construction and renovation projects. The majority of this construction was seen in the spring and summer months. Building permits submitted in July alone generated $46.1 million in value, while March wasn’t far behind at $45.6 million.

Dickinson said the number and value of such projects creates a significant positive ripple effect in the local economy and shows the overall influx of new businesses and jobs to the area.

“We have companies that are expanding their operations here and are expanding their workforce while they do that,” Dickinson said. “That leads to growth in housing, which increases revenues for our local city and county governments.”

At the moment, Dickinson said he anticipates 2022 will largely follow suit, predicting that the city will continue to see substantial commercial and residential development.

“I think we’ll see some major announcements in the first few months of 2022 to indicate that,” Dickinson said. “Barring a national or international incident that would cause the regional economy to be impacted, 2022 will be an exceptionally strong year.”

However, Dickinson added that one area of development will likely lag behind: the renovation and construction of new office buildings. With many local employees still working from home, Dickinson said the overall demand for office building development is exceedingly low and will likely remain that way into next year.

“It’s in a real slump,” Dickinson said. “I don’t imagine anyone will be doing any kind of new office building development anytime soon.”