Plans unveiled for $75 million renovation of Q Casino

Officials on Tuesday unveiled plans for an at-least-$75 million renovation to transform one of Dubuque’s casinos and add new amenities to the facility.

Officials with Q Casino shared a five-phase plan to renovate the facility. The total project is expected to cost $75 million to $80 million and should be completed by 2025.

The plans include remodeling the main casino area, adding a family entertainment area, constructing a new hotel tower and upgrading the facility’s facade.

“It’s been 15 years since we’ve undergone any significant upgrades,” said Stacy Kansky, chief commercial officer for Q Casino and DRA, the nonprofit license holder for Dubuque’s casinos. “We want to make this a better experience for our guests.”

Q Casino and DRA officials met with the Telegraph Herald to share the plans ahead of Tuesday’s DRA board meeting.

At the meeting, board members unanimously approved the project as a whole, as well as approved work to begin on its first phase. DRA board members will have to approve work on each of the five phases before they begin.

“This is something that we’ve been talking about for a long time now, and we’ve done our due diligence and all of the planning,” said Kevin Lynch, who served his last day as chair of the DRA board at Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s an exciting project for the entire community, and I for one am very excited to get the ball rolling.”

Conlon Construction Co. will be the general contractor on the project. Brian Rakestraw, chief operating and finance officer for DRA and Q Casino, said casino officials are working with MidWestOne Bank on financing, which is not dependent on grant funding.

The DRA also plans to continue to contribute to both its grant program and the City of Dubuque at the same rate as it does today. The DRA’s lease agreement with the city splits the DRA’s annual distribution evenly among the city, local charities and improvements to Chaplain Schmitt Island.

“Any impact should be minimal, and by reinvesting in the property, we expect to increase overall gaming and entertainment from new and return visitors, resulting in revenue growth,” Kansky said in an email.

Alex Dixon, president and CEO of Q Casino and DRA, will present to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission on Thursday, Jan. 26, to seek approval of the first phase of the renovation project.

“This is an exciting project for Q Casino, DRA and the city of Dubuque, so we look forward to making our presentation to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission and getting final approval of our plans,” Dixon said in a press release related to the project announcement. “A lot of effort has gone into getting us to this point, but we have planned carefully and done our homework.

“We are now in a great position to begin transforming the old greyhound racing area into usable space, as well as refreshing and enhancing what is offered in our current casino footprint.”

Previously announced plans to pursue building an amphitheater at the site of the former greyhound racetrack still are being pursued, as well.

Details on 5-phase project

The first phase of the project will involve setting up a temporary casino area in the facility’s upper level in the former greyhound racing grandstand viewing area. That area will connect with the existing casino gaming space located on the upper level.

All of the gaming equipment located in the main casino on the lower level — to the right as you walk in the main casino doors — will move up to this area. Work on this phase might start as early as Feb. 7 and could last three to four months.

The second phase will consist of remodeling the main casino area, and the gaming equipment will be moved back after that remodel is complete. The main casino remodel also includes upgrading the center bar with bartop slot machines.

“From the walls all the way to the flooring, this (remodel) will touch every corner of the casino,” Rakestraw said. “We’re giving the entire casino an upscale facelift. Anyone who walks in will notice the change.”

The creation of a family entertainment area will be the focus of the third phase. The area will be located in the upper level and former racing grandstand viewing area and will include banquet space and a bar.

“When you go left (from the main Q Casino doors), it would be for all ages, and if you go right, that’s the 21+ (years old) area,” Kansky said. “Plans are a bit fluid, but (the family entertainment area) would be catered to adults and be family-friendly.

“… There is a limited number of activities for families to all do together, so we are excited to provide something that is family-friendly. And this is not only for local families. There will be something for everyone.”

Kansky said the sportsbook and bar area will remain in the upper level area even after the renovation is complete. The Farmhouse restaurant will leave the upper level, she said, and other food options for the space are being discussed.

Phase four of the project features the construction of a hotel tower between Hilton Garden Inn and Q Casino. Kansky said the new hotel space likely will fall under the umbrella of the Hilton as well.

Plans for the new hotel still are being determined, but Rakestraw said it likely will add more than 80 hotel rooms to the current 116 rooms at Hilton Garden Inn. A restaurant on the top level of the new structure also is planned, though Kansky said the design of the restaurant — including whether the restaurant would include both open-air dining and an enclosed space — still is being discussed.

“Not only will the rooftop restaurant have outstanding views of the Mississippi River, but also of the bluffs and the downtown area as well,” Rakestraw said.

The hotel tower echoes previous plans shared in 2020, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, to construct an eight-story hotel and rooftop restaurant between the Hilton and casino. Officials at the time anticipated the project to be completed in 2021, but it did not come to fruition.

The fifth and final phase of the Q Casino renovation will involve updating the facility’s facade and landscaping.

‘Anchor’ for future Schmitt Island development

The renovation project is among the plans that have been shared so far for Chaplain Schmitt Island.

“This (renovation project) is one of the big pieces of the puzzle when it comes to redevelopment on Schmitt Island,” Kansky said. “The Q is an anchor and a hub for that, and we’re proud to get it going.”

DRA officials previously shared ideas about potential projects on the island, with the most concrete of those being plans for an outdoor amphitheater where the greyhound racing track was, as well as trail connections.

The City of Dubuque applied for a $7.3 million Destination Iowa grant, which is supported through federal American Rescue Plan Act money, in October to go toward the project, which is projected to cost a total $18.35 million. Rakestraw said officials still are waiting to hear if they will receive that grant.

“Our understanding is that the state has received those grants and are still looking at those applications,” he said. “We’re hoping to hear by the end of the month, but it’s a waiting game at this point.

“… Schmitt Island is the gateway into Iowa. As we develop in the future, we want to set the tone and say, ‘Hey, this is a beautiful place, and we’re proud to be the gateway to Iowa.’”

Rakestraw noted that, depending on whether the grant is received, the demolition of the greyhound dog track might fall under the umbrella and price total for the Q Casino renovation project.

DRA officials also have shared additional prospective developments on Schmitt Island, including upgrades to ballfields at McAleece Park & Recreation Complex, better access to the Mississippi River from the island and upgrades to the exterior of Dubuque Ice Arena.

The arena already underwent more than $6 million worth of repair and improvement projects and reopened last fall. The nonprofit Schmitt Island Development Corp. now manages the facility.

“Our plans to refresh and enhance what is offered at the Q is an important investment that fits into a much bigger plan that goes to the heart of who we are as a city and what we offer both citizens and visitors,” Dixon said in the press release. “Improvements at the Q are a key part of the plans for Schmitt Island, which will eventually offer even more amenities and features that can be enjoyed by all.”