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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Bluff Street ramp.
PARKING RAMP. In August, 1960 an appraisal of Dubuque public parking and traffic was made by Barton-Aschman. The report concluded that the parking was then adequate, but a long-range study of parking needs should be made. In addressing the idea of "parking ramps," the report insisted that to be effective, a parking ramp would have to be in the "core area" of the downtown. (1)

In the spring of 1961 Harold Marks of Victor Gruen Associates conducted a parking survey with the goal of solving the immediate problems of parking in the downtown area. Marks and a committee of citizens considered ten sites, but recommended the block bounded by Locust, Bluff, Eighth and Ninth for at least one two-level parking facility for its superior accessibility. Marks further estimated that a 250-car two-level garage could be built for about $770,000. (2)

The site had three tenants--the Telegraph Herald, Chamber of Commerce, and Franklin Roshek, a cousin of the owners of ROSHEK'S DEPARTMENT STORE. Roshek owned a parcel of land along the west side of Locust that was used for parking mainly by professional people who had offices in the area. (3)

In September 1962, the Chamber of Commerce announced its willingness to sell its property at 9th and Locust for the appraised value of $80,000, or a mutually agreed upon price, provided the land was used for the development of a parking ramp. The Telegraph Herald agreed to a trade of property with the same stipulation. Officials of the Telegraph Herald agreed to trade its 100 x 102 foot lot at Eighth and Bluff for three parcels of land along Ninth Street which were then being used as metered municipal parking. (4)

Encouragement for the construction was quickly shown. The Chamber of Commerce agreed to sell its land for $75,000, less than the appraisal. The Chamber also announced that $31,000 in private funds had been committed to the project. (5)

The Dubuque Planning Commission approved the parking ramp construction on a vote of 4-3 on September 14, 1962. At the meeting, it was explained that parking facilities were financed by revenue from parking and not tax money. The motoring public paid for the convenience of parking lots. (6) On September 17, 1962 the council authorized negotiations to acquire the Roshek property. (7)

City Manager Gilbert D. CHAVENELLE and a delegation of city officials visited Madison, Wisconsin to observe parking ramps in operation and talk with officials. In addition to seeing that the first ramp they entered was full, they were surprised by the financial results. They were informed that the 732-car Dane County ramp was making money on the rate of five cents per car per hour. That information led some of the Dubuque delegation to suggest a three-level ramp and charging five cents per hour instead of the recommended ten cent rate. (8)

The Dubuque City Council on October 22, 1962 voted 3-2 to go ahead with the design of the structure and site acquisition. Since negotiations with Franklin Roshek had not been successful, condemnation proceedings were considered. (9)

The Detroit, Michigan firm of National Garages was chosen for preparing preliminary designs and cost estimates for the ramp construction. When the Council approved the designs and estimates, National Garage obtained final plans before bidding began. National Garage was paid thirty cents per square foot in the completed ramp and was expected to incorporate its use of special structural materials to minimize the number of support pillars and increase space for more cars. It was considered a possibility that the ramp would not be metered but instead charge for the length of time in the ramp with an "automatically dispersed charge ticket." (10)

In 1963 plans for a square block parking ramp bounded by Eighth, Ninth, Bluff and Locust drawn by National Garages, Inc. failed to meet the satisfaction of the council which called for alternative plans for a facility to hold close to 200 cars per level. (11) By 1965 the ramp's design provided for 449 spaces when the building was scheduled for completion during the summer. This ramp came at the expense of the DUBUQUE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE office building which was torn down sixty years after it was built.

Locust Street ramp.
A parking ramp plan that would allow the city to construct one tier at a time was unveiled in February, 1968. When completed the ramp would cost an estimated $1,2000,000 with the bottom deck, a simple flat surface parking lot, installed for $100,000. The ramp would be split into two equal sections, one five feet higher than the other to match the slope of the land. The two upper tiers could be installed one at a time. The two second tiers would each cost $300,000. The ramp would be constructed on the west side of Iowa Street from Sixth to Eighth streets and hold 600 cars. (12)

Construction was assisted by the Iowa Legislature which raised the maximum interest rates cities could pay on bonds. The law thus allowed cities to keep up with soaring interests that affected cities nationwide. In 1968 a revenue bond issue of $2 million for Dubuque's new sewage treatment plant was stalled because of the interest rate limitations. The city was able to issue $600,000 in revenue bonds for the Iowa Street ramp only because Dubuque's banks joined in as a community effort to share the financing. All other bids would have charged too much interest. (13)

The Iowa Street ramp offered abundant parking, but the opening of FIVE FLAGS CIVIC CENTER initially caused a serious problem. The second weekend the center was open, it took an hour and ten minutes to empty the ramp using the ticket-cashier procedure. Each driver was stopped at the exit to have the time in the ramp calculated and billed. (14)

As a result of that, Iowa Street ramp customers were changed a uniform fifty cents to park there during Five Flags events. An agreement with the GRAND THEATRE kept the ramp open for free on Sundays and holidays with the theater paying for its operation even if a person intended to attend a program at Five Flags. (15) Motorists also complained about the awkwardness of driving up the Seventh Street entrance to the ramp and stretched out the window to reach the ticket dispenser. This was corrected with the entrance being redesigned. (16)

In 2009 a $35 million Northeast Iowa Community College bond levy included $83,000 for a pedestrian walkway connecting the third level of the Iowa Street ramp to the second floor of the Town Clock Center. NICC expected to split the cost with the city. Ironically to provide easy access to the downtown merchants, the city in 1985 had first announced plans to build a $50,000 public skywalk from the Iowa Street parking ramp to the Kresge building to facilitate business. (17)

In 1988 the city budgeted $575,000 to repair the 23-year-old Locust Street ramp. The repairs would extend the life of the ramp by 20 years according to Public Works Director Frank Murray. Ignoring the needed repairs would result in closing the ramp within five years. Similar repair was expected for the Iowa Street ramp in 1989 or 1990. (18)

In 2001 construction of the Fourth Street parking ramp led to the closing of several Main Street companies for several months. The city ordered a halt to construction on the ramp and the owners of the MONTE CARLO, 378 Main; Ellen's Floral Gallery, 372 Main; SILVER DOLLAR, 342 Main; and Corporate Express to vacate the rear 30 feet of each building on January 17, 2001. Cracks had been discovered forming in the structures. Construction did not resume until March 26, 2001. (19) An engineering consultant for the city concluded that the cracks were the result of the installation of augercast piles, the columns of concrete that formed part of the foundation. (20)

In 2005 a number of Main Street businesses sued the City and a list of contractors, architects, and consultants. In February, 2003 Dubuque County District Court Judge Robert CURNAN ruled the market value of each building would be the maximum damages the property owners could be awarded by a jury. The trial began in May, 2003. During the proceedings, the City settled with the original five property owners for $300,000. After a five-week trial, jurors found the City and four businesses involved in the construction responsible for damages and awarded the plaintiffs $1.28 million. (21) The City of Dubuque was sued by Maxim Technologies, Inc. for $500,000 in damages to the company in connection with the damages caused by the construction. The Iowa Supreme Court upheld the decision of Dubuque County District Court Judge Lawrence Fautsch in dismissing the case. (22)

When heavy snow hit Dubuque in January, 2005 Dubuque's three city parking ramps were opened to downtown residents. Parking was free in ramps on Iowa, Locust, and Fourth [[STREETS] from Sunday until 9:00 a.M. Monday to allow street crews to remove snow from roadways. (23)

McGraw-Hill parking ramp
The need to replace aging equipment at Dubuque parking ramps with the city council to approve an expenditure of $570,000 in 2007. As a result of the upgrade, patrons would be able to use credit or prepaid cards, coins or cash in the new machines. The same procedure for entering the ramp would be for the driver to take a ticket. The new features would be present when exiting the lot. The ticket could be inserted into a slot in the machine or handed to a cashier. The machine calculated the time involved in parking based on a rate of fifty cents per hour to a maximum of seven dollars. After hours or when there was no cashier led to a flat rate of two dollars. The new equipment would be first installed in the McGraw-Hill lot in the PORT OF DUBUQUE where there was some public parking. The money for the new equipment came from parking fees. The Parking Division was self-supporting. (24)

Walker Parking Consultants in August, 2008 completed a downtown parking study. Its conclusions did not include the estimated 1,300 IBM workers planned for the Roshek Building. The consultants divided the downtown into five parking zones with the Town Clock area located in Zone 3. The study reported that 1)localized pockets of demand created the perception that the parking supply was inadequate even though a surplus existed, 2) weekend parking in Zone 3 occupied about 71% of the spaces available, 3) the challenge in Zone 3 was the high percentage of reserved or restricted paring space which limits the supply when spaces are vacant, 4) Zone 3 would have an 85-space surplus (pre-IBM) within five to 10 years. (25)

Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
The arrival of new IBM employees led to a proposal in April, 2009 to create a parking ramp for about 900 cars between 5th and 7th along the western side of Main. At the time, the ramp appeared destined for the city lot at Fifth and Bluff. The location was not highly rated. Because of the bluff, the ramp would have to be a smaller facility. Another proposal was the city lot next to the Fire Department headquarters at Ninth and Iowa. That site had not been highly rated either. Still viable was the intermodal facility at the Port of Dubuque. Plans for the train and bus depot included a parking ramp capable of handling up to 750 vehicles. The Transit Department offered free shuttle service from the Port area to downtown. Two ramps were also proposed for the Historic Millwork District.

In 2011 the DIAMOND JO CASINO used the PORT OF DUBUQUE parking ramp for their valet parking. The city owned and operated the parking ramp for which the Diamond Jo was paying the costs of construction. The casino also reimbursed the city each year for the ramp's operation and maintenance costs. Within the ramp the casino used sixty-two parking spaces while there were 1,069 for public use. (26)

In 2019 a divided Dubuque City Council approved a development agreement between HEARTLAND FINANCIAL USA, INC. and COTTINGHAM AND BUTLER, INC.. Voting 4-2, the council approve the $12 million purchase of the Roshek Building tied to the construction by the city of a $20 million parking ramp on a site to be determined by December 31, 2022. The new ramp would be capable of providing 500 parking spaces for the anticipated growth in the number of employees working downtown. The city was also obligated to install lighting and call boxes between the new ramp and the Roshek Building. (27)

Lighting used in the ramps, even during daylight hours in some locations was considered an element of safety. In older parking ramps lighting levels were low because of their design. Full walls, for example, did not allow natural lighting to be used. In other parking ramps lighting levels were controlled with times and photo cells. In 2010 the city budget included funds to replace the lighting systems in the Fifth Street and Locust Street ramps. The new computerized system was to be radio controlled and be activated by motion sensors and daylight monitoring equipment. There was an anticipated cost reduction in electric usage of 40%. (28)




1. Shively, Neil, "Downtown Parking Ramp Considered," Telegraph-Herald, October 8, 1961, p. 6

2. Shively, Neil. "Chamber, T-H Offer Properties," Telegraph Herald, September 9, 1962, p. 4

3. Ibid., p. 1

4. Ibid, p. 4

5. "Parking Ramp Project Favored by Officials," Telegraph Herald, September 12, 1962, p. 1

6. Shively, Neil. "Approval Indicated by Council," Telegraph Herald, September 16, 1962, p. 1

7. "Authorizes Manager to Negotiate," Telegraph Herald, September 18, 1962, p. 1

8. Shively, Neil. "Ramps Pay," Telegraph Herald, September 23, 1962, p. 1

9. Shively, Neil. "Parking Ramp Design, Land Options Asked," Telegraph Herald, October 23, 1962, p. 1

10. Shively, Neil. "Detroit Firm Will Do Parking Ramp Design," Telegraph Herald, December 14, 1961, p. 1

11. "Ramp Work to Begin," Telegraph-Herald, January 1, 1969, p. 5

12. "One-Tier-At-A-Time Parking Ramp Proposed," Telegraph-Herald, February 13, 1968, p. 11

13. McDougall, Tom, "How Did Legislature Treat Cities?" Telegraph-Herald, June 20, 1969, p. 8

14. Bulkley, John, "5 Flags Parking Woes Continue to Bother Downtown Merchants," Telegraph Herald, May 1, 1979, p. 6

15. Ibid.

16. "'Walkway' Begins to Take Some Form," Telegraph-Herald, July 10, 1970, p. 8

17. Kirchen, Rich, "Developers Continue 'Uphill Battle' Downtown," Telegraph Herald, September 10, 1985, p. 2

18. Kirchen, Rich, "Dubuque to Spend $575,000 to Repair Parking Ramp," Telegraph Herald, February 10, 1988, p. 3

19. Kittle, M. D., "Not Earthshaking," Telegraph Herald, March 27, 2001, p. 1A

20. "Crack Case Background," Telegraph Herald, January 8, 2005, p. 1A

21. Szeszycki, Emily, "Court Sides With City," Telegraph Herald, January 8, 2005, p. 1A

22. Bragg, Mary Rae, "Latest Snowfall Totals 4.5 Inches," Telegraph Herald, January 23, 2005, p. 1A

23. Kundert, Rob, "City Eyes New Parking-Control Equipment," Telegraph Herald, April 5, 2007, p. 3A

24. Piper, Andy, "City Eyes New Parking Ramp," Telegraph Herald, April 19, 2009, p. 2A

25. Ibid.

26. "Ask the TH," Telegraph Herald, November 6, 2011, p. 11

27. Barton, Thomas J. "Divided Council OKs Roshek Deal," Telegraph Herald, December 17, 2019, p. 1A

28. Ask the TH, "What's Purpose of Round-the-Clock Lighting?" Telegraph Herald, September 19, 2010, p. 13