Building Code Options
The City Council has adopted the 1997 Uniform Code for Building
Conservation, the 2000 International Building Code, and the 2003 Dubuque
Historic Building Code. The adoption of three separate building
codes gives owners, contractors, architects and the Building Services
staff alternatives when dealing with existing buildings. It also reduces
the barrier (real and/or perceived) of codes when property owners are
contemplating renovation of their downtown buildings. The HPC supports
the use of these codes.
Preservation-Related Planning
The City of Dubuque prides itself on our comprehensive planning, and
historic preservation is included in the planning process.
wLong-range goals for historic preservation are set forth in the
City’s 1995 Comprehensive Plan and 2002 Plan update.
wIn 2002, the City Council adopted the Port of Dubuque Master Plan.
The Port of Dubuque is home to several National Register properties
and the America’s River project. The Plan provides for a dense
urban development pattern reflective of Downtown Dubuque, and
supports a riverfront revitalization effort that includes cultural and
heritage tourism as well as design standards that reflect Dubuque’s
historic downtown architecture.
wThe City Council recognized the importance of the historic, architectural
and cultural resources of downtown and surrounding
neighborhoods with the adoption of the Downtown Dubuque Master
Plan in 2004. The Plan evaluates current conditions, catalyst opportunities,
and barriers to investment for Downtown’s historic features.
It also describes priority actions for protecting and encouraging
redevelopment of historic resources in Downtown.
Preserve America Communities Status
The City of Dubuque was recognized in 2004 by the White House as
demonstrating commitment to preserving America's heritage while
ensuring a future filled with opportunities for learning and enjoyment.
The Preserve America Communities status recognizes the City of Dubuque’s
exceptional efforts to use cultural and natural resources to
promote tourism, revitalize the community, create jobs, and educate the
public. Dubuque is the first city in Iowa to receive this Federal designation.
The City of Dubuque, Iowa is a tremendous example of “leading edge”
preservation efforts that can be accomplished through leveraging funds
and forming partnerships. The City of Dubuque’s array of historic
preservation regulations and incentives are not found in many communities.
Dubuque’s programs
can serve as a
model for historic preservation
from across the country,
and are especially relevant
for small to medium-
sized cities.
November 2004
Shot Tower
Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Depot


The City of Dubuque has a strong historic preservation ethic, a historic preservation ordinance, a conservation district ordinance
and a variety of preservation incentives supported by an active Historic Preservation Commission. As Iowa’s oldest city, Dubuque
has been continually in the forefront of historic preservation in State of Iowa – principally for successful new preservation incentives.
We believe that Dubuque has one of the best preservation programs in Iowa, with a growing array of preservation tools
available to help finance rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of historic structures.
The City of Dubuque’s commitment to historic preservation began in the mid 1970’s as the community reacted to the wholesale
clearance of downtown blocks through urban renewal programs.
Initial Efforts
In 1976, the Dubuque Architectural Survey was completed and demolition districts were established as precursors to historic districts.
The City Council adopted a Historic Preservation Ordinance in 1977. The City Council established the Historic Preservation
Commission (HPC) in 1979 to assist in the review, retention and promotion of historically significant properties and districts
in the city of Dubuque. The City designated local historic districts and landmarks from 1979 to 1984 based on the 1976 Survey.
Historic Districts
There are 615 structures located in five locally designated historic districts administered by the HPC. All of these districts -- Cathedral,
Jackson Park, Langworthy, West 11th Street and Old Main -- are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Local Landmarks
The City of Dubuque has designated 8 local landmarks for the HPC to administer: City Hall, Dubuque County Courthouse, Old
Dubuque County Jail, William M. Black steamboat, Shot Tower, Mathias Ham House, Julien Dubuque Monument and Four
Mounds Estate. All of these are on the National Register. In addition, the Old Jail and the William M. Black are National Historic
Landmarks. The City is in the process of nominating the Shot Tower as a National Historic Landmark.
National Register Inventory
The city limits of Dubuque encompass many of Dubuque County’s nationally recognized cultural resources, including 1 of the 4
archeological districts, all 6 historic districts, and 36 of the 46 structures individually listed on the National Register. Two of the
County’s 3 National Historic Landmarks are in Dubuque. The City of Dubuque has been adding to its National Register inventory
in the last few years, principally through historic tax credit projects in the central business district.
Demolition/Conservation Districts
When first established in 1976, the demolition districts had a discretionary 90-day review by the City Council for all demolition
permit applications in these districts. They encompassed neighborhoods where the 1976 Architectural Survey indicated there may
be a collection of historically and architecturally significant structures.
When several landmark commercial structures in the Downtown were threatened with demolition in 2001, the City Council asked
the HPC to assist in completely revamping the regulations for demolition districts. In 2001, the City Council expanded the boundaries
of the demolition districts to include the Downtown, established economic
review criteria, and made the HPC an advisory review body for demolition permit
applications in the demolition districts.
In August of 2004, the City Council renamed the demolition districts to conservation
districts, and revised the economic review criteria based on recommendations
of the HPC and the Community Development Advisory Commission.
The HPC now has review responsibilities for demolition requests in the 8 conservation
districts that protect 958 structures in the downtown and surrounding
older neighborhoods. The conservation districts encompass areas of historically
and architecturally significant structures.
Façade Grants
The Façade Grant Program is available for front and rear façade renovations in the Old Main Subarea of the Greater Downtown
Urban Renewal District, which encompasses the Old Main Historic District. The grants are used to eliminate inappropriate additions
or alterations, to repair facades to their historic appearance, to rehabilitate the façade


Certified Local Government
The City of Dubuque participates in the Certified Local
Government (CLG) program of the State Historic Preservation
Office. The main benefit of being a CLG is that the
City is able to conduct federally-mandated Section 106
reviews locally, as opposed to sending each project to the
State Historic Preservation Office. If projects had to be sent
to the State, the amount of paperwork would increase significantly,
as would the review time.
As a CLG, the City also is eligible for grants to conduct a
variety of historic preservation activities. These have included
development of design guidelines and the phased
Historical/Architectural Survey/Evaluation of the community.
Historical/Architectural Surveys/Evaluations
The Dubuque City Council has committed matching funds
for State grants to survey and evaluate the historical and
architectural significance of 4,728 structures in the historic
districts and conservation districts.
Dubuque’s many architectural themes and historic contexts
are recorded in the 1999 Comprehensive Survey and the
2000 Community Assessment of historical contexts and
supporting architectural themes funded in part by Certified
Local Government Grants from the State Historical Society
of Iowa. This multiple property document is the foundation
for phased historical and architectural surveys and evaluations
of Dubuque’s older residential and commercial
Completed in 2000, Phase I of
Dubuque’s Historical/Architectural
Survey/Evaluation encompassed
993 structures in the Couler Valley
area. Phase II examined 2,092
structures in the Eagle Point area in
2001. Phase III involved 647 structures
in and around the central business district, including
the Old Main Historic District, in 2002-2003. Completed in
June of 2004, Phase IV evaluated 544 structures in the
Jackson Park, Cathedral, West 11th Street, and Langworthy
Historic Districts. It included nominating the West 11th
Street and Langworthy Historic Districts to the National
Register. From 2004-2005, Phase V will evaluate 452 structures
in the remaining areas of the conservation districts not
previously surveyed.
Responding to Challenges
In the 1990’s, historic preservation faced a number of challenges
in Dubuque. As a result, the City Council determined
that a renewed focus on historic preservation was needed.
In 1999, City Council members directed the HPC to review
and update the Historic Preservation Ordinance, and to
identify solutions to the problems and deficiencies with the
existing ordinance that had been the cause of these coPreservation Partnerships
The City of Dubuque also prides
itself on our community partnerships,
and historic preservation is no
exception. The HPC has found good
community support and a strong
funding commitment from the City
Council and our partners at the
local, regional and state levels for a growing list of preservation
tools and incentives.
The HPC created a Preservation Task Force in the Spring of 2000
to develop partnerships, gather public input and present recommendations
to the City Council. The Task Force included HPC
members, historic district property owners, contractors who work
on historic properties, and representatives from the Dubuque Area
Board of Realtors, Dubuque County Historical Society, and Dubuque
Main Street Ltd. The Task Force received staff support
from the City’s Community and Economic Development, Legal,
and Planning Services Departments.
The Task Force gathered public input and developed partnerships
to help the City uphold its commitment to its historic sites through
focus group meetings, surveys, a public forum, and input from the
State Historic Preservation Office. The Task Force identified perceptions
and problems surrounding historic preservation, and developed
recommendations for Historic Preservation Ordinance
revisions and preservation incentives.
Historic Preservation Ordinance amendments
The City Council amended the Historic Preservation Ordinance in
2001 to address problems and issues that had been causing conflicts
in the 1990’s.
wEstablished Design Review Guidelines for the 5 historic districts as
a user-friendly resource to reduce the “red tape” that property
owners and contractors encounter when making exterior improvements
to historic properties. In 2002, the HPC distributed
Architectural, Streetscape and Landscape Design Review Guidelines
for the Historic Districts and provided Design Review Training to
local property owners, public officials, design professionals,
historic preservation commissioners and staff from around the
state of Iowa.
wAdded a Preservation Alternatives step to the design review process,
between the step for a Certificate of Appropriateness and
the step for a Certificate of Economic Hardship. The Preservation
Alternatives step requires a property owner to attempt to
obtain financial incentives and restoration alternatives sufficient
for the owner to earn a reasonable economic return.
wDesignated the HPC as an advisory review body for public works
projects within historic districts or at landmarks that are visible
from the public way. In 2003, the City Council extended the
HPC’s advisory design review to downtown banners.
wProhibited Demolition by Neglect, to require owners of historic
property keep their real estate in good repair and to control
neglect before it gets to the point where the property owner
requests changing or replacing the structure’s original materialsoffer information and assistance to property owners on
preventative maintenance with historically appropriate
methods and materials.
Historic Preservation Incentives
In addition to these regulatory changes, the City Council
initiated historic preservation incentives for rehabilitation of
historic properties that bridge the gap that owners of historic
properties face due to their income, the cost of historic
preservation, or both.
wChanged the Historic Preservation Homeowner Grant Program
for low to moderate income households, by increasing
the grant amount from $2,000 to $5,000 for
exterior rehabilitation, and removing the required
wCreation of a Historic Preservation Revolving Loan Fund to
provide low interest loans to
property owners at any income
level in the four residential
historic districts. The
program provides loans of up
to $25,000 at 3% for 10 years
per structure for exterior
rehabilitation. It is modeled
after the City’s Downtown
Rehabilitation Loan Program,
which includes the primarily
commercial Old Main Historic
wCreation of a Historic District Public Improvement Program
to provide incentives for public place and streetscape
improvements in each historic district on an annual
rotating basis, with improvements based on a comprehensive
urban design plan for each of the 5 historic
districts. The program is funded at $100,000 per year
with a 25% match requirement, and is available to
neighborhood groups and neighborhood associations.
wExpansion of the existing Urban Revitalization Program to
include all historic districts. This program offers a 10-
year property tax exemption for interior and exterior
improvements that increase the tax assessment and in
turn the property taxes, for residential properties in
older neighborhoods.
wPartnership with the Dubuque Area Board of Realtors to
provide information for potential purchasers of property
within a historic district about historic preservation
regulations and incentives, and to include information
that the property is in a historic district on the purchase
agreement form, the abstract and the deed.
Since these Historic Preservation Ordinance amendments
and historic preservation incentives were implemented, the
HPC has not been challenged by appeals to the City Council.
The work of the HPC and the Preservation Task Force
helped create a positive image for historic preservation
efforts, and spurred other local initiatives in support of
historic preservation.
Lead-Based Paint Abatement
In the late 1990’s, the City’s Housing Services Department
had launched a major lead -based paint abatement program
for the City’s substantial pre-1940 housing stock. Conflicts
emerged between the federal housing program guidelines
for lead-based paint abatement and the Secretary of the
Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.
In 2001-2002, the HPC, Durrant Architects and the Planning
Services Department, with assistance from the State
Historic Preservation Office, developed Architectural Design
Guidelines with input from Housing Services and
Building Services staff that accommodated the goals of
both federal programs. Design review training also was
offered to staff in these City departments.
Neighborhood Grants
Through the federal Community Development Block
Grant (CDBG) Program, the City provides financial assistance
to low and moderate income households. The City
offers a Neighborhood Infrastructure Program and
Neighborhood Grants to neighborhood associations and
neighborhood groups in CDBG target areas, where a majority
of households are low and moderate income.
These programs compliment the Historic District Public
Improvement Program. Since 2002, these CDBG programs
have been made available as the local match or overall
funding source for streetscape improvements submitted by
neighborhood organizations for the Historic District Public
Improvement Program.
Historic Property Tax Rebate Program
In 2002, the City Council established the Historic Property
Tax Rebate Program to encourage property owners to
preserve, rehabilitate, restore, and reconstruct historic
properties in the City’s Downtown Urban Renewal District.
The program rebates property taxes on the new taxable
valuation for 8 years. The HPC reviews the applications
and provide recommendations to the City Council