Dubuque’s history is one worth noting. The City has come a long way over the years — venture back in time through to present day via a timeline of major milestones.


 How did Dubuque get its name? In 1788, Julien Dubuque was granted rights by the Mesquakie Indians to mine their land for lead; he settled near the mouth of Catfish Creek. Dubuque is for whom the city is named.


  • At the turn of the century, Dubuque’s Historic Millwork District was the backbone of the regional economy.  Dozens of companies, 2,500 employees, a district heating system and intimate connections to downtown, the Port of Dubuque and the Washington Neighborhood characterize the District.


  • Noted landscape architect and city planner John Nolen is retained to develop Dubuque’s first comprehensive plan. Adopted in 1936, this plan established the framework for coordinated growth and development.


  • The Julien Dubuque Bridge is completed south of the Ice Harbor, thereby moving vehicular traffic over the Port of Dubuque, instead of through it, across the old Dubuque “High” Bridge.


  • Dubuque is a bustling epicenter of industrial, wholesale and retail goods.  Unemployment is at the lowest percentage ever recorded (1.5%). That is until April of 1965 when  flood waters from the Mississippi River inundate Downtown Dubuque. Following the 1965 flood, funds were sought from the Federal government for the installation of a floodwall. This floodwall was built in the late 1960s and helped keep the city from experiencing serious flooding during the 1990s.


  • The recession and farm crisis of the early 1980’s have devastating effects on the economy of the Midwest and Dubuque. Between 1980-1983 Dubuque endures the highest unemployment rate in Iowa at 23%, with 10% of the housing stock vacant or for sale.


  • The Greater Dubuque Development Corporation (GDDC) is formed to provide guidance and help shape Dubuque’s future through continued growth, prosperity and inclusion. The creation of the GDDC stemmed from an analysis of community economic development opportunities and organizational needs, which recognized no single activity or program could address such. The Greater Dubuque Development Corporation was formed to provide guidance for the implementation of that plan.


  • The road to new prosperity is outlined in the 1995 City of Dubuque Comprehensive Plan. Entitled “Creating the Future”, the document builds on past grassroots visioning efforts and serves as the first comprehensive approach to community planning adopted by the Dubuque City Council since 1936.


  • Dubuque becomes the first recipient of the Vision Iowa Grant, and was awarded $40 million to revitalize the Port of Dubuque.


  • The City engages citizens in visioning and planning processes for the possibilities offered by waterfront revitalization. The Port of Dubuque Master Plan is adopted in 2002 to guide existing and future development for a major riverfront revitalization effort of 120 acres. Over the next decade, $400 million is invested towards the revitalization of the 90-acre North Port from brownfields into a destination.


  • In 2005, Dubuque is leading the state and Midwest in job growth, ranking as the 22nd fastest-growing economy nationally.


  • Dubuque becomes an early leader on the sustainability front. During the 2006 City Council goal-setting process, Mayor Buol proposes and receives full support  to focus on sustainability as a top priority, stating “cities that get out in front on sustainability will have competitive economic advantages in the future.” Sustainable Dubuque soon becomes a City Council adopted, community-created, and citizen-led initiative.  A City Council priority each year since, Dubuque is continually working to expand awareness, create partnerships, and encourage initiatives involving all sectors of our community.
  • Beginning in 2006 the City of Dubuque also begins developing the 2008 City of Dubuque Comprehensive Plan. Through citizen input, the new plan’s framework is built around Dubuque’s economic, physical and social environments and strongly aligns with the Sustainable Dubuque model.
  • Dubuque is also awarded the Urban Pioneer Award by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in recognition of the City’s 20-year commitment to the revitalization of the city’s center.


  • The Upper Catfish Creek Watershed Project begins after the Dubuque Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) notices the increasing trend of agricultural land converting to urban development areas. Upper Catfish Creek begins as a cold-water trout stream and plays a vital role for recreational opportunities within Dubuque County.The City of Dubuque and Dubuque County were eager and excited to partner with the Dubuque SWCD to create a Watershed Coordinator position and watershed council group that would begin working with both agricultural and urban landowners in the watershed.


  • The Community Foundation and City of Dubuque partner to support Project HOPE, which increases access to opportunity for all by supporting provider networks for change, expanding pathways to education and employment, and building financial inclusion.
  • As part of the Upper Catfish Creek Watershed Program, the City of Dubuque Engineering Department and Dubuque Soil and Water Conservation District staff begin collaborating to form an educational outreach program throughout the community, an extension of the City’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.


  • A master plan for the redevelopment of the Historic Millwork District is adopted and implementation is under way.  The plan connects people, planet and profit in a mixed-use neighborhood — a district reconnected with surrounding neighborhoods and re-energized with housing, retail, offices, galleries, entertainment and employment.  Major milestones include a National Register Historic Designation and public investment towards a complete streets and utilities project, a new intermodal transportation center and public parking facility.
  • The Safe Community Advisory Committee is formed to further safety via the partnership between residents and their government. The group, appointed by the Dubuque City Council, was asked to look at both the causes of, and solutions to, crime in Dubuque and to recommend goals and objectives to the city leaders.


  • Stemming from Catfish Creek Watershed efforts, an Urban Conservation Program is formed to begin development of a watershed plan and promote conservation practices throughout the entire watershed. The City of Dubuque understood and realized the importance of working beyond city limit boundaries and started to work with partners across the watershed transitioning the Watershed Coordinator
    position to the broader position of Urban Conservationist.


  • Sustainable Dubuque is fully developed and has begun to make significant inroads in the community. The framework and principles are incorporated into the 2012 City of Dubuque Comprehensive Plan, further reinforcing the relationship between sustainability and Dubuque’s comprehensive planning efforts.
  • The Long Range Planning Advisory Commission by City Code is responsible for coordinating and supervising the preparation and maintenance of the Comprehensive Plan. In connection with the 2010 I-JOBS II funding contract for the City’s Lower Bee Branch Creek Restoration Project, the City is required to review its Comprehensive Plan to determine the advantages of adopting Iowa Smart Planning principles and amending its Comprehensive Plan to utilize Smart Planning principles within three years.
  • The Catfish Creek Watershed Authority Board is formed to address flooding and water quality degradation on a watershed level.


  • The Long Range Planning Advisory Commission proposes and City Council adopts a significant update of the Comprehensive Plan to include recommended and required elements of Iowa Smart Planning law.
  • In October of 2013, Inclusive Dubuque is launched to make Dubuque more welcoming and inclusive. Backed by the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, Inclusive Dubuque quickly grows to include more than 50 organizations dedicated to advancing equity and inclusion.
  • Dubuque is named to “10 Great Places to Live” by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and ranked 14th in the nation among “Best Small Places for Businesses and Careers” by Forbes.


  • The Long Range Planning Advisory Commission proposes and the City Council adopts the “Imagine Dubuque” Community Engagement Plan as a framework to better involve residents who have traditionally been under-represented in past updates of the Comprehensive Plan through a variety of formats and interactive input opportunities.
  • The Environmental Protection Commission establishes $1.4 million in funding for improvements within the Catfish Creek Watershed.


  • Dubuque becomes the 3rd Iowa community and 25th in the nation to be awarded a 4-STAR Community Rating for national sustainability excellence.  The STAR rating is a national framework for measuring and advancing local government’s environmental, economic and community efforts to achieve sustainability.
  • By 2015, over $94 million dollars have been invested into the Historic Millwork District.  Major milestones and investments include the 186,000 sqft Schmid Innovation Center, 260,000 sqft Novelty Ironworks Building, the Intermodal Transportation Center, Complete Streets Project and Linseed Oil Building.


  • The City Council determines that it is time for developing and implementing a robust, creative, inclusive Comprehensive Plan that is interesting, meaningful and relevant to diverse community members. The City Council further determines that funding is necessary to accomplish these goals. In 2016, the City Council approves a budget to retain a consultant to undertake the approved community engagement process and update the Comprehensive Plan.
  • Dubuque is awarded 1st place in the 2016 National League of Cities (NLC) Cultural Diversity Awards for the City’s support of Inclusive Dubuque and its effort to develop a community equity profile.
  • Dubuque is awarded $8.4 million in Disaster Resiliency Funds from HUD to assist Bee Branch Watershed Homeowners in repairing and flood-proofing their homes.

Click here for additional details on Dubuque’s Planning History and the purpose of the Comprehensive Plan.