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Building a Better Dubuque

Committee Announces Top 10 Ideas

Rob Kundert

Dubuque Telegraph Herald

January 6, 2006

Envisioners See Ideas Crystallize

The Process Generated Plenty of Interest Throughout the City

Rob Kundert

Dubuque Telegraph Herald

January 6, 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.]

Six months of community brainstorming, committee work and surveys that made up the Envision 2010 process came to a head Thursday night with the unveiling of 10 projects for the community to achieve in the next five years.

Ten young children, dressed like the "newsies" of a century ago in caps and knickers, raced into the Parkview Room of Dubuque Greyhound Park & Casino, heralding each project.

The ideas include continued development in the Port of Dubuque, developing rail service and hiking/biking trails. Other ideas are support of bilingual education, a performing arts center and revitalizing the city's historic warehouse district.

"It really cuts across a lot of different aspects of our community. Education, health, wellness, culture, private enterprise," said Steward Sandstrom, co-chairman of the Envision steering committee.

This is the distillation of more than 2,300 ideas that were the result of group sessions, large and small, throughout the community from July through September. In October, a selection committee trimmed the number to 100, which was further reduced to 30 in town meetings in November.

The committee then used that input combined with survey work by project consultant Vernon Research Group to arrive at the final 10.

"Community planning in the old days was done by five guys in a smoke-filled room. That's not the way anymore. People don't want that. They resent it. They want to be involved," said Bob Woodward, of Vernon Research Group.

"Never once did it become a tense situation. It was a very cordial, harmonious group," said Paul Hemmer, a member of the selection committee.

Gary Gansemer, another member of the committee, said at times the process was painful and at times seemed disorganized, but in the end it proved to be well thought out.

"Do things that are possible. I really think we have 10 ideas that will make this a better place to live, not just a better place to come and visit," he said.

There's more to the list than the 10 main projects. With so many ideas, the committee worked to make connections between similar items and issues.

"A lot of these were blended from four or five ideas," said Hemmer, who also pointed out that the committee made an effort to be specific. "We wanted to really give people a vision."

It was an impressive process, according to Tom Barton, who has been with the project since last spring as a member of the Envision Steering Committee.

"It's a huge project. Ultimately you are trying to get a tri-state community of one-tenth of a million people or more on the same page," he said. "It takes a lot of momentum for one idea to make the final 10."

No one knew if the Envision process would work, according to Sandstrom. No one expected so many ideas, all the interest and all the participation, he said.

"With that history, I think it's going to be a natural process to accomplish all of these," he said.

Just because an idea didn't make the cut doesn't mean it can't become a reality, according to Sandstrom.

"There are a lot of other ideas that are on the list," he said. "Anybody can pick off any one of these and make a difference in the landscape of Dubuque."

That thought was not lost on Hemmer.

"I'm saving that list of 2,330 ideas, because there are some superb ideas in there," he said.

The interest generated by the Envision 2010 process that began six months ago sustained itself Thursday as an estimated 225 people filled the tables and lined the sides of the Parkview Room at Dubuque Greyhound Park & Casino. 

Many took part in the first group sessions from July to September, which produced more than 2,300 ideas that had to be trimmed, distilled and winnowed down to 10.

"I was in two or three meetings," said Robin Kennicker, of Dubuque, who supported Port of Dubuque development and rail transportation. Both made the cut.

"It was like you're 10 years old on Christmas Eve opening a present," she said.

Susan Henricks, director of the Carnegie-Stout Public Library, was glad to see her facility listed as one to renovate and expand. But she avoided submitting the idea during the early brainstorming phase.

"I felt that I couldn't do that. Although it was near and dear to my heart, I felt it would look like I was being self-serving," she said. 

The level of public participation did catch her eye, she said, and adds credence to that goal.

"Especially when it came down to the vote, to see the diversity of the crowd. People were willing to participate," she said of the town meeting phase in November to trim the list to 30.

Bob Cahill took part in those sessions with his wife, Jonneal.

"We enjoyed it immensely. It was something we never thought we would ever see in Dubuque," he said of the effort to get the public's thoughts on the future of the community.

The two also liked the final selections.

"Eight out of the 10 were the ones we voted for," he said. 

Ann Michalski, a member of the Dubuque City Council, was especially gratified to see the goal enhancing mental health and substance abuse services. With the financial problems facing the Gannon Center for Community Mental Health, the timing was right on.

"Happening as it did in the middle of the crisis with mental health care, I think people were paying attention," she said.

Vicki Bechen, a member of the selection committee, was happy with the final list, though two projects she was personally pulling for - non-smoking in public places and more public-access boat docks - didn't make the final 10.

But as Envision organizers pointed out, anyone can take any of the ideas that didn't make the final list and make it their own project. 

"In fact, I'm thinking about getting a group together to pursue the non-smoking issue," she said.