IN TH FIRST: New nonprofit to oversee Schmitt Island development, manage ice arena

A new nonprofit will oversee future development on Chaplain Schmitt Island and manage the ice arena there.

Schmitt Island Development Corp. recently launched and will work in cooperation with the City of Dubuque going forward on island amenities and development. Kathy Buhr, DRA director of strategic philanthropy and Chaplain Schmitt Island development, will serve as president of the nonprofit’s eight-person board.

“We have a good variety of people on our board,” Buhr said. “Now, we are able to take charitable donations to coordinate development efforts on the island.”

One-third of the DRA’s annual distribution goes toward work on Schmitt Island, and the Schmitt Island Development Committee — made up of DRA members — makes recommendations to the full board on how those funds should be spent. This now includes granting dollars to Schmitt Island Development Corp.

Alex Dixon, president and CEO of Q Casino and DRA, added that Schmitt Island Development Corp. also will work with others to raise charitable funds for improvements on the island.

“We can be the connective tissue to bring it all together,” he said.

Ice arena to open next week

After being closed since June for more than $6 million worth of repair and improvement work, Dubuque Ice Arena officially will reopen next week. Schmitt Island Development Corp. has entered into a management agreement with the City of Dubuque for the facility.

The city took over management of the facility from nonprofit Dubuque Community Ice and Recreation Center Inc. after that organization announced in June 2021 that it would step away. DICE had managed the center since its construction in 2009.

In January, the DRA approved an interim staffing agreement with the city to temporarily take over management duties of the ice center. While ice center staff operated as DRA employees, the city covered staffing expenses and maintained the facility.

Now, Schmitt Island Development will oversee staff, marketing, security and events at the facility.

Dubuque Leisure Services Manager Marie Ware noted that the city still owns the ice arena. The agreement with Schmitt Island Development is similar to agreements made for Grand River Center and Five Flags Center, she said.

“It’s still a city facility in that we would be looking at doing capital improvements, just like we are in the process of doing right now,” Ware said. “At the city, we have a good track record of how we have been doing things with other management agreements. We have really kind of used the success of others to help build upon the success of the Dubuque Ice Arena.”

She said the initial management agreement runs until Jan. 31. City Manager Mike Van Milligen is allowed to enter into management agreements for up to one year, Ware said, but a longer agreement, if desired, will have to be approved by City Council members.

“This allows us to get a few more details hammered out while allowing us to open the facility and get going,” she said.

Dixon said he envisions events at the facility year-round, including holiday and birthday parties, fundraising events, school events and boat shows.

Stacy Kansky, chief commercial officer for Q Casino and DRA, said the ice arena will reopen on Monday, Oct. 31, when the Dubuque Fighting Saints begin to again practice in the facility. An open house celebration for the community to see the arena’s improvements and skate is planned for 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2.

“There’s a lot happening,” Kansky said. “It’s an exciting time.”

Future development ahead

Schmitt Island Development also will help raise awareness and support for other island development plans.

“The casino cannot do it all,” Dixon said. “We want to open as many doors as possible to accelerate our master plan.”

Earlier this month, details on $18.35 million worth of developments on Schmitt Island were announced, including the construction of an outdoor amphitheater and trail connections.

The City of Dubuque applied for a $7.3 million Destination Iowa grant, which uses federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars, for the project. As part of that application, the DRA committed up to $8 million. No announcement has been made yet on that application.

The proposed outdoor amphitheater would take the place of the greyhound track behind Q Casino. Iowa Greyhound Park ceased operations in May.

Should the Destination Iowa grant funding be approved, Dixon said, DRA officials will work closely with and at the direction of the city on demolishing the greyhound track, as well as other plans.

“If we do not receive that grant, we stand ready to imminently deconstruct the track and move forward with our plans,” he said. “But we’re hoping for that award.”

Buhr added that the trail system connection project also likely will begin in the spring at Veterans Memorial Plaza.

“You’re going to start seeing things happen down here soon,” she said.

More information on Schmitt Island, as well as future information on developments, can be found at