Grant to cover study of former Dubuque manufacturing site

Federal grant money will go toward planning possible uses for the site of a former manufacturing facility in Dubuque, but while its owner has indicated support for the effort, the company has not committed to any specific course of action.

City Council members recently unanimously approved applying for an Environmental Protection Agency brownfields planning grant to conduct a series of focus groups regarding the 43-acre Flexsteel Industries property at 3400 Jackson St. to develop a future vision for it. The company’s Dubuque manufacturing facility was located at the site for more than eight decades until it was demolished after a new facility was built along Seippel Road. The site has remained largely vacant since.

While the property still is owned by Flexsteel, Dubuque Economic Development Director Jill Connors said gathering input from local homeowners and businesses could inform future redevelopment of the area.

“As opposed to kind of just leaving it up to fate and not having a plan, we would like to see what the community would like to see there,” Connors said

When reached by the Telegraph Herald, Flexsteel Chief Financial Officer Derek Schmidt sent an emailed statement.

“Flexsteel has enlisted Gronen and DBQ Property Group to coordinate efforts with the City of Dubuque and other partners to explore opportunities to redevelop the former Flexsteel manufacturing site for uses that align with community interests,” read the statement. “Combined with input from many stakeholders, including residents and neighbors, the project is intended to craft a vision for the property’s future use.”

Under a previous deal, the site already would have been out of Flexsteel’s hands.

As part of an agreement crafted to ensure the company built a new manufacturing facility in Dubuque, Flexsteel had entered into an agreement with Dubuque Initiatives, City of Dubuque, Dubuque County and Iowa Department of Natural Resources to gift the property to Dubuque Initiatives. The company, state, city and county collectively deposited about $6.3 million into two escrow accounts for demolition and environmental cleanup.

However, in late 2019, Flexsteel pulled out of the agreement, choosing instead to redevelop the property itself.

Earlier this year, the Dubuque County Conservation Board approved a nonbinding letter of intent stating Flexsteel would donate a 16-acre portion of the Jackson Street property that borders the Heritage Trail and contains wetlands. Brian Preston, executive director of Dubuque County Conservation Board, said recently that environmental assessments still are ongoing before the donation can be finalized.

Though Dubuque City Council members recently approved applying for the $20,000 federal grant to study the site, the filed application paperwork effectively gives the city access to the funds, and the planning process is already underway, according to Dawn Danielson, lending development specialist with East Central Intergovernmental Association, which is administering the grant.

The grant covers brownfields services, and a grant application states that a site assessment report completed in December “identified waste oil, (volatile organic compounds), (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), lead, cadmium and arsenic at concentrations above their respective (statewide standards) in soil and groundwater” at the Jackson Street site.

ECIA will hire Blackstone Environmental, of Kansas, to examine past city planning documents and the history of the site and to conduct focus groups in order to develop a document that will detail a potential vision for the property.

Connors said that vision is the first step to garnering interest from developers.

“Redevelopment of property takes planning,” Connors said. “It will lead to the next steps, which could include developers considering the property.”

Emily Smart, senior project manager at Blackstone Environmental, said three events are planned as part of the visioning process — a focus group with North End Neighborhood Association, another focus group with surrounding small businesses and finally a public-input session.

“We’re going to be asking people what they want to see,” Smart said. “Does the community want to see residential or commercial? Do they want a grocery store?”

Smart estimated the process likely will be completed by early February.

City Council Member Danny Sprank, whose ward includes the Flexsteel site, expressed his support for the project and added that he would like to see creation of new commercial businesses on the property.

“I would love to see a strip mall or grocery store,” he said. “There are many possibilities with the land.”