Should the Five Flags Center in downtown Dubuque be torn down and rebuilt as a larger, more modern venue? It's a hot topic around town with the City Council's recent vote to let voters decide in a future referendum.

In April, the Five Flags Commission met, heard public input, and recommended the Council let the voters decide on the project expected to cost in the neighborhood of $100 million. These pricey public works projects typically raise eyebrows, with homeowners worried about the increases in taxes. In contrast, others say it's worth the cost and will further enhance the City's desire to be known as a vibrant midwestern destination worthy of big-name entertainment.

The Commission's findings say Five Flags is at a point where it has to expand to bring in more opportunities like national sports competitions and shows with larger stage setups.

City Council members voted, 5-2, to draft language for a public vote on March 7, 2023, to ask permission to borrow up to $92 million to fund the project, which calls for the demolition of the current Five Flags Center and the construction of a larger facility. The new civic center would expand across West Fifth Street, increase the number of seats to 6,400 and improve the historic Five Flags Theater.

Historic Five Flags Theatre. Photo Credit: Keith B.
Historic Five Flags Theatre. Photo Credit: Keith B.

The overall consideration is whether a new arena would pay for itself directly or help keep Dubuque on the map for larger conventions, events, and concerts that generate sales for local businesses and tax revenue.

A quick scan of past Five Flags concerts makes one wonder if a more modern Civic Center could draw top talent and dollars to Dubuque. As many Dubuquers travel to Cedar Rapids, Madison, and Moline to see shows, will 6,000-plus people fill a new Dubuque arena? Further, will those people spend money in restaurants, hotels, and other entertainment and tourist destinations like the National Mississippi Museum and Aquarium?

Some of the Five Flags' best concerts have included an impressive list of talent, including country music stars Tim McGraw, Willie Nelson, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Alabama, and Reba McEntire. In addition, rock legends Bob Dylan, Kiss, Van Halen, Rush, AC/DC, and Aerosmith, have all played Five Flags.

What do you think? Should the City of Dubuque invest in a new civic center to compete with other regional venues for top talent? If we build it, will entertainers, spectators, and conventions come to town?

The Five Flags arena was constructed and opened over four decades ago in 1979 to much fanfare and a sold-out concert with comic legend Bob Hope.

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