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Hope for the Millwork District: A place to live, work and play

Things are coming together and adding life to the Millwork District

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Posted: Sunday, June 9, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 10:58 am, Sun Jun 9, 2013.

Communities are constantly attempting to attract new businesses. Dubuque officials can make a unique presentation when it comes to commercial space available in the Millwork District.

Thus far four businesses have committed to or are set up in the district, and officials say two more will announce soon.

Officials say their hope is for the Millwork District to serve as a place where residents can live, work and play. The renovated buildings in the northern end of downtown have commercial and residential space.

In addition to apartments, the district includes a bridal boutique, pilates studio, renewable energy company and, coming soon, a local food co-op.

John Gronen, whose business, Gronen Properties, is involved in Millwork District renovations, said approximately 65 percent of the commercial space on the first floor the first building in the district is spoken for.

"It's coming together in a way that I think everyone envisioned," Gronen said.

The Millwork District project includes renovations of abandoned warehouse buildings, creating rental units and commercial space.

With developers' eyes on sustainability, Barry Shear's company, Eagle Point Solar, seemed like a natural fit as one of the first tenants.

Eagle Point occupies what Shear considers a prime piece of real estate in the district at the corner of Ninth and Jackson streets.

"I think this is a great old building. I remember it from my younger days when it was just a shell, a hull," Shear said. "To see it brought back to life ... there's nothing more sustainable than (renovating) an existing building. They made it into an ultra-modern, energy-efficient, sustainable building."

Dan LoBianco, executive director of the nonprofit Dubuque Main Street, said the food co-op is another great fit for the district.

"It can be the grocery store for downtown," he said. "That's an obvious reinvestment."

Gronen said because of the district's drawing power, officials are able to be judicious when attracting businesses. He said officials are in constant contact with businesses in an attempt to draw them to the district now and in years down the road.

He said Nancy Kann, who is handling business recruitment to the district for Gronen Properties, has numerous contacts.

"It's a process," Gronen said.

Gronen said the first phase of the project would set the tone. Rick Dickinson, president and CEO of Greater Dubuque Development Corp., gave credit to the first wave of businesses he said took a chance by moving to the district, calling them "champions."

Dickinson said any time there is available commercial space, filling it takes some time. But he also said be believes more tenants will come. He said the Millwork District offers "cool space in a live-work environment."

An added bonus, Dickinson said, is turning a building that once was an eyesore into a productive hub in which residents can live and work.

"When you remove slum and blight in a community, it changes, in baby steps, the image of a community," he said.

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