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Group Rules Out Possibility of An Outdoor Facility

Emily Klein

Dubuque Telegraph Herald

May 14, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.]

The arts are an undeniable part of Dubuque's culture.

Ballets at the Grand Opera House, symphony performances at the Five Flags Theater and plays on school stages across the city have kept people entertained in the tri-states for decades.

But what about the future?

That question led the people on the Envision 2010 selection committee to put a combined indoor/outdoor performing arts center on the top 10 list of city projects to be completed in the next five years.

Paul Hemmer was on that committee, which narrowed more than 2,000 community-betterment ideas to 10. He said many of the original concepts included some kind of performing arts center.

"It's been discussed for so long, it's time to put it on the table and let people discuss it and find out whether Dubuque can support something like this," Hemmer said.

The original idea was to build a state-of-the-art center to present the finest music, opera, theater, dance and educational presentations. The Envision goal had it slated for the Port of Dubuque with true concert hall acoustics designed to serve local groups, major touring artists and theater attractions.

But the 20 people on the project's planning committee are still working to narrow the focus and refine the idea.

At its first of three meetings so far, the committee discussed whether a new facility is needed at all.

"We've been going on two tracks at this point, looking at those current facilities to see if they're adequate, to see if they could be remodeled and to see if they would be appropriate for the next 25 or 50 years," said Jeff Goldsmith, executive director of the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra and head of the committee. "The other track, of course, is to pursue a new building."

Marina O'Rourke, director of Dubuque City Youth Ballet and Heartland Ballet, said ideally the committee wants a 1,500-seat multi-arts center, but a damper was put on that idea when some business people told the committee that the Dubuque area might not be able to support it.

Five Flags has been the symphony's venue for years and has been very accommodating, said William Intriligator, director and conductor of the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra. But structural limitations hold it back.

"There aren't really enough seats and the seats that are there aren't really desirable or comfortable enough for our patrons," he said. "If we want them to sit through an hour-long symphony, we have to make sure that they're comfortable."

Acoustics are another problem and the stage is too small, yet it would be "nearly impossible" to expand, he said. There aren't enough dressing rooms, and handicapped access to the balcony would be preferred.

O'Rourke said the Grand Opera House and Five Flags are both beautiful and should be preserved, but a new center would better serve some performances.

The Five Flags Theater is more than 90 years old and was restored in 1975. The Grand Opera House was built in 1889 and has seen a number of renovations.

If a new building were to be constructed, Intriligator said it would serve as many arts as possible.

"Art in the lobby, teaching spaces, office spaces, a sculpture garden around the outside, places for students and a restaurant," he said of the ideal scenario.

The committee has ruled out an outdoor portion for the facility primarily because of location. They said an outdoor center would have to be built on the west end of town, probably in a hillside. Loud trains, traffic and fish flies were considered to be deterrents.

The indoor center would be best suited on the east side where it can tie into the rest of Dubuque's new developments and offer more parking.

The committee hopes that having a state-of-the-art facility would make Dubuque a stop for traveling shows that plan regular performances in places like Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis and St. Louis. It also might entice the growing number of tourists to spend a night at a local performance.

If they decide to build a new center, the committee expects the planning and construction to take about three years. Committee members said they hope to decide whether to build new or renovate within the next few meetings so they can begin the process.

Members also are visiting venues in other cities or checking online to see what works in other places and how it could translate to Dubuque.

"When you think long-term of the growth of Dubuque and you think of John Deere bringing in people or you think of new companies moving here, part of what they're looking for is the cultural scene that can rival what a lot of these people have seen in New York or L.A. or Minneapolis, and people come here with pretty high expectations," Goldsmith said. "We want to meet those expectations."