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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.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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1492-1504 Banner of Arms of the Catholic Monarchs (Spain)

FIVE FLAGS CIVIC CENTER. In many respects, the construction of the Five Flags Civic Center was the culmination of a process begun in 1925 with the desire for a CITY AUDITORIUM.

The Five Flags Center was a multipurpose facility in downtown Dubuque named for the five flags that once flew over Iowa. Spain was the first nation to claim Iowa. In 1493, the year after Christopher Columbus discovered the West Indies, the pope granted Spain all the lands he touched believing he had found a continent. Drawing a line from pole to pole, the pope declared that land east of the line claimed by no other Christian country belonged to Portugal; land to the west belonged to Spain. (1)

1365-1794 Kingdom of France

Although Marquette & Joliet explored the MISSISSIPPI RIVER in 1673, it was Robert Chevalier (of the estate of La Salle), commonly known in history as Robert de la Salle or simply La Salle, who claimed the Mississippi Valley for France in 1682. La Salle named the territory "Louisiana" and described it as all the country drained by the "River St. Louis" (Ohio) and the "Colbert River," (Mississippi). This territory extended from the Alleghenies to the Rocky Mountains and from the source of the Mississippi to its mouth. (2)

Banner of Arms of the House of Bourbon (Spain)

In 1763 at the end of the French and Indian War ("Seven Years War" in Europe), the Treaty of Paris was signed. France lost Canada and all of its land east of the middle of the Mississippi River. Unsure of its ability to hold its remaining American possessions, France secretly ceded the remainder of Louisiana to Spain. The open transfer occurred in 1769. Arrangements were made in 1800 by the Treaty of San Ildelfonso for Spain to cede the land back to France. (3)

1606-1801 First Union Flag (England)

In 1779 Spain had joined France in support of the American Revolution. In 1780 a series of British military operations were carried out to clear Spanish influence from Quebec to the Gulf of Mexico. Capt. Henry Bird, with a force from Detroit, was directed to attack George Rogers Clark at the Falls of the Ohio. General John Campbell, 5th Duke of Argyll, from Pensacola, after taking New Orleans was to proceed up the Mississippi to Natchez and join a third force that descended the Illinois River and captured St. Louis. Capt. Charles de Langlade was to lead the force down the Illinois, which was to split up and also control Vincennes. None of the missions were successful, but there was a slight break in Spanish rule of Louisiana.

Flag carried by Lewis and Clark.

Faced with the costs of military activity in Europe and slave rebellions in its North American holdings, Emperor Napoleon of France in 1803 chose to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States. On April 30, 1803, the United States paid France nearly $12 million and assumed debts of the French government of an additional $3 million. The United States formally took possession of Louisiana on December 20, 1803. Upper Louisiana, including Iowa, however, was not transferred until March, 1804. (4) The five flags, therefore, were the Fleur de Lis of France (1682–1762), the Royal Flag of Spain (1762–1800), the Union Jack of Great Britain (1780, during the American Revolution), the French Republic Flag of Napoleon (1800-1804) and American flag (1804–Present).

Theater History. Courtesy: Telegraph Herald

The ORPHEUM, the existing theater, was the last of a legacy of theaters at 4th and Main. By 1969 the building had fallen into disrepair and was scheduled for demolition during URBAN RENEWAL.

In June, 1971 a fund raising survey suggested that Dubuque would contribute $1.5 million to build a civic center using the Orpheum Theater as a nucleus. It was reported that the idea had $180,000 in pledges despite the fact that no formal fund drive had been organized. The report was prepared by John Grenzabach and Associates of Chicago. The second part of the two-part study was to be completed before a fund raising drive was to be considered. This phase, carried out by the Real Estate Research Corporation of Chicago for $4,000, studied the potential financial support for the civic center once it was built. (5)

A Five Flags Council comprised of 120 Dubuque prominent civic leaders was announced in January, 1972. On February 29, 1972, the "Five Flags Spring Gala" was held at the Orpheum to kick-off the community teams' division of the Five Flags Civic Center Campaign. A community-wide solicitation was begun in March. By December, 1972 Wayne Andrew NORMAN, Sr. could announce that the fund drive had reached about 55% of its goal. Helping fundraising efforts was the designation that year of the Orpheum to the NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES. Sufficient resources had been gathered to plan in 1973 for the hiring of an architectural firm, make a bid for federal restoration funds, and seek federal money for the a multi-media exhibit. (6)

Proposals for aid were presented to Iowa Governor Robert Ray; Murray Goodman, Iowa Director of the American Bicentennial Commission (ARBC); and Del Black, regional director of ARBC. Each endorsed the idea, but offered no hope of financing.

In February, 1973 a delegation including Wayne Norman, Five Flags chairman; Mayor Joseph BITTER, a county supervisor and 24 Five Flags committeemen flew to Washington, D.C. On their invitation list to see a presentation about the project were the entire Iowa congressional delegation; officials from Housing and Urban Development; and representatives from the departments of Interior, Health, Education and Welfare, National Trust for Historic Preservation, ARBC, and the Bureau of Parks and Recreation. Their theme was a multi-media theater that would depict the development of the Upper Midwest and its importance to the nation beginning with the adventures of Jean Marie CARDINAL. According to their plan, the entire center in 1976 would be devoted to the bicentennial with frontier exhibits, multi-media theater, and perhaps a commissioned play. The center would later serve the tri-states. Their appeal was for $1.4 million--two-thirds of the $2.1 million needed to refurbish the Orpheum and construct the civic center. (7) Nothing came of the effort.

A smaller delegation presented the city's proposal to the Federal Regional Council meeting in Kansas City, Missouri in November, 1973. Helping the city was its recent designation as a "national bicentennial city." Hopes were to receive part of $749,000 anticipated in federal funding. (8)

Restoration of the Orpheum included tuck-pointing and sandblasting the brick, removing the theater marquee, creating new decorative metal molding, and painting to highlight the cornices. Harold H. Walter (shown) worked one week to fashion two of the 4.5 foot decorative moldings by hand to resemble the originals. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald.

Thoughts of federal financial assistance were dashed in April, 1974 when the Iowa Bicentennial Commission voted 12-8 to designate the Living History Farms near Des Moines as Iowa's official meeting house instead of Five Flags or the Old Capitol restoration project in Iowa City. This prevented Five Flags from receiving $1 million in federal funds. (9)

In September, 1974 a $2.5 million Five Flags-Ice Rink referendum to include an ice-rink across the street in a separate building was defeated by local voters. (10) A 'town hall' meeting was scheduled for January 9, 1975, to determine the future of the project. Invitations were sent to the Five Flags Council of approximately 150 people and to the 400 people who had contributed money. It was hoped a recommendation could be written. The city council had asked to meet with the Five Flags Committee. (11)

As a result of the 'town hall' meeting, a new $3.76 million plan was initiated. An indoor ice rink would be built on the western half of the Orpheum Theater block adjacent to the proposed exhibition-arts hall. Movable walls would separate the rink and the hall and could he removed to create a large auditorium that would seat 5,000 people. It was expected that after approval from the city council and recreation commission, architects would be hired while the Five Flags Committee purchased the land and released contracts for work on the interior of the Orpheum. Work on the Orpheum would be paid for with donations already contributed to make it usable for summer stock theater productions. (12)

Private funding reached $800,000 in September, 1975. The sale of a 1976 postcard book and stationery featuring the work of local artist Mrs. Laura Foster was hoped to bring in an additional $8,000. (13)


On August 16, 1976 Dubuque voters approved a $3.7-million bond referendum to begin construction in the fall. The final vote was 70% positive with 60% needed to pass. (14) The facility had its grand opening on March 24, 1979.

The arena could seat up to 5,200 for basketball, although in its primary use, ice hockey, actual seating capacity was only about 2,500. The creation of the floor began with a two-inch thick mat of styrofoam to insulate the floor above. Supported above the styrofoam were 9.1 miles of piping that carried 1,300 gallons of ethylene glycol solution cooled to 15 degrees F. That temperature seeped through the concrete to freeze the water into ice. Twenty tons of steel reinforcing bars stretching 11.3 miles crisscrossed above the piping. To make the actual floor, 1 million pounds of concrete was pumped through heavy hoses on top of the steel grates. Crews then worked the concrete between the grates and over the pipes. Smoothing the top to within one-eighth inch of perfection was made possible by a laser marker. Curing the concrete took two days since it was submerged under a thin coat of water to slow the process and avoid cracking. (15)

The ice hockey rink was made in four layers. After it had frozen, the bottom one-quarter-inch layer of ice was painted white to give the ice its color. Placed on a higher layer of ice were the hockey lines and other markers. A total of four layers of ice were created with 9,588 gallons of water. (16)

The area featured one side of permanent seating; the other three sides were bleachers, some for LORAS COLLEGE basketball, and most of Dubuque's major concerts.

High school graduation ceremonies for STEPHEN HEMPSTEAD HIGH SCHOOL and DUBUQUE SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL were regularly held at the center. Five Flags Center was the former home of the DUBUQUE FIGHTING SAINTS (1980-2001) of the United States Hockey League from 1980–2001 and the home of the Dubuque Thunderbirds hockey team of the Central States Hockey League from 2001–2010.

By 1990 Five Flags continued to grow at a rate of between 5-10% annually, but still needed a financial infusion of between $300,000 to $350,000 annually. Five Flags director Bob Drury explained that the annual contribution of tax money added to the city's quality of life. The Center brought entertainment to the community and out-of-town visitors who spent money. Other than day-to-day operating costs, another sizable expense was debt service. This was paid annually through a 5% tax on hotel and motel rooms. (17)

Construction of other venues impacted the use of the Center. In 2003 the building of the Grand River Event Center moved many events away from Five Flags. The MYSTIQUE COMMUNITY ICE CENTER hosted the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

SMG took over operations of the arena in 2004, which were formerly handled by the City of Dubuque. In 2005, the arena was closed during the summer for concession, entrance, and concourse renovation.

[File:fivef.jpg|250px|thumb|left|]]By 2015 the size and age of the building was beginning to limit efforts to bring in additional revenue. Its seating capacity prevented attracting major performers and sporting events. The 34-foot ceiling made it difficult to accommodate modern productions with rigging, lighting and other equipment. For the 2015 fiscal year, gross revenues fell 7.8 percent while expenses remained flat. Over $10 million in tax funds were spent on Five Flags from 2002 to 2015. The city subsidized operations with more than $800,000 annually. (18)

In 2016 the city council approved $50,000 for a building and market evaluation to identify better uses for the facility. The management company for Five Flags, SMG Worldwide Entertainment and Convention Venue Management, contributed $30,000 to the study with $70,000 to lessen show losses to performances that might bypass the city. (19)

In December 2016 the members of the city council were asked to approve a request for proposals (RFP) prepared by a steering committee of city and economic development officials to determine the future of the building. A consultant would be asked to consider five proposals including demolishing the building (but not the ORPHEUM, leasing or selling the center to a private business, renovating the current building, expanding the building as it now exists, or relocating the Center. H. R. Cook, the facility general manager, estimated the Center had an economic impact of the city of $2-5 million. Since city officials did not have more exact figures, this would be part of the study. The consultant's work was scheduled to be done in July with council members given recommendations in August. (20)

In May 2018 council members were given a draft report to be used as a guiding document for future decisions. Against the backdrop of the facility being expected to cost the city nearly $900,000 in taxpayer-funded subsidy in the year ending in June, consultants were asked to evaluate the following: maintain the status quo, limited renovation of the arena. renovation of the theater and expanding the arena, or renovating the theater and building a new areas. In the last two options, the 4,000-seat arena would be expanded to 5,600 and 6,000 seats, respectively. Several council members were expecting, but did not receive, analysis of parking issues, alternative uses, and subsidies. (21)

In June, 2018 an advisory firm offered four proposals one of which was a $68.5 million construction plan for a local multi-purpose facility. The plan included renovating the center's theater, expanding the facility and building a new 6,000-seat arena. (22)

Civic Center officials announced in August, 2018 that the city-owned facility had ticket sales in fiscal year 2018 of $1.9 million, almost double the $1 million in gross sales from fiscal 2017. The major contributor to the brighter financial picture was an April 13 performance of Willy Nelson whose show generated $260,349.00 in gross sales--the highest total for a single event in Five Flags history. (23)

The city council in November, 2018 voted to hire a consultant to further develop possible plans relating to a proposed $68 million expansion to Five Flags. The same firm, Conventions, Sports & Leisure International, which had presented the four proposals in June was hired for the second stage which was intended to 'better define the costs.' (24)

More studies at a cost that could exceed $100,000 to evaluate potential improvements to the Center was the theme of city staffers in February, 2019. They reminded the council that it faced a $6 million to $85 million expenditure for renovating the theater, expanding the civic center and adding a new arena, the civic center commission and council had chosen. (25)

In April, 2019 the Dubuque City Council authorized a subsidy of $939,803 for the center, an increase of 2% over 2018. This was determined through a contract with management company SMG, Inc. based on the consumer price index. Problems confronting the center included competition from the GRAND OPERA HOUSE, University of Dubuque Heritage Center, area casinos, and a cold, icy winter. For the new year, administrative salaries were frozen and more family events. Council members had not yet discussed language for a voter referendum on rebuilding and expanding the center. (26)

A new study announced in November, 2019 suggested that for an estimated $75 million the city could add 2,400 seats and reduce an annual operating budget of more than $900,000 by two-thirds. A second option would mean a 788-seat expansion for an estimated $67.6 million. However, with this option, the city would pay an annual operating subsidy of more than $750,000. (27)

On January 6, 2020 the city council voted 6-1 to move ahead on a September 8, 2020 vote on the proposed $75 million expansion. It had been proposed to have the vote held on March 3rd, but the ballot language would have had to be finalized by January 17th. This was considered along with the need to educate voters. The expansion across 5th Street would increase the arena's capacity from 4,000 seats to over 6,400 and the installation of eight suites with the possibility of decreasing the annual taxpayer operating subsidy from $900,000 to about $375,000. (28) The average homeowner would pay more than $2,200 in additional property taxes over 20 years for an assessed value of a home valued at $146,000. (29)

The onset of the PANDEMIC in February/March of 2020 ended the immediate consideration of any referendum/vote on the renovation. The rescheduled vote was set for January 18, 2022. (30)

The financial impact of being closed for a large portion of the fiscal year which began on July 1, 2020 was discussed when the annual report was made in September, 2021. During the 2020 year, the Center generated only $512,109 in ticket sales which was more than $700,000 lower that the previous year. In 2021, the Center was able to show $365,000 in income slightly higher than the $310,000 shown in 2020. Expenses declined fro $1.48 million in fiscal year 2020 to $1.17 million for fiscal year 2021. Five Flags put on more than than similiar facilities in Madison, Wisconsin; Cedar Rapids or Des Moines, Iowa. With the reduced expenses and increased income, Five Flags was able to reduce the subsidy from the city by an estimated $150,000. The overall economic impact did decline with attendance dropping by about 35,000 people and the number of event days decreasing by 131. (31)

NOTE: For a video history of the Civic Center, see: http://cityofdubuque.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=2426 produced by the City of Dubuque.



1. Sabin, Edwin. The Making of Iowa, Chicago: A. Flanagan Company. 1916. p. 10

2. Ibid. p. 12

3. "Spanish Louisiana, 1762-1800," Discovering Lewis & Clark, Online: http://www.lewis-clark.org/article/1137

4. Sabin, p. 14

5. "Say Public Will Donate to 5 Flags," Telegraph-Herald, June 23, 1971, p. 10

6. "Action Line," Telegraph-Herald, March 10, 1972, p. 3

7. Miller, Jim. "Restoring Theater Would Enhance Heritage," Telegraph-Herald, January 14, 1971, p. 13

8. "Civic Center Donor Told," Telegraph-Herald, January 18, 1971, p. 10

9. Bulkley, John. "Advisory Unit Maps '72 Plans," Telegraph-Herald, November 24, 1971, p. 4

10. "Culver Looks to Orpheum Aid," Telegraph-Herald, October 31, 1971, p. 8

11. Ibid.

12. Good, Stephen. "Voters Make Five Flags a Reality," Telegraph Herald, August 16, 1976, p. 11

13. "Local Artist Lends Paintings to Civic Center Fund-Raiser," Telegraph Herald, September 25, 1975, p. 7

14. Fyten, David."New Civic Center Concept Endorsed," Telegraph Herald, January 22, 1975, p. 1

15. Freund, Bob. "The Ice Man Cometh to Five Flags, but First..." Telegraph Herald, Dec. 19, 1978, p. 1

16. Ibid.

17. Gilson, Donna, "Five Flags Looks Back, Plans Ahead," Telegraph Herald, August 24, 1990, p. 1

18. "Five Flags Struggles to Add Revenue," Telegraph Herald, November 29, 2015, p. 1

19. Ibid., p. 2

20. Jacobson, Ben. "Five Flags' Fate: Demolition a Possibility," Telegraph Herald, December 5, 2016, p. 1

21. Jacobson, Ben. "Civic Center Study Raises Red Flags," Telegraph Herald, May 15, 2018, p. 1A

22. "Dubuque Commission Recommends $68.5M plan for Civic Center," KWWL.com. Online: http://www.kwwl.com/story/38511182/dubuque-commission-recommends-685m-plan-for-civic-center

23. Yager, Alicia, "Five Flags Finances Improving," Telegraph Herald, August 4, 2018, p. 1A

24. Fisher, Benjamin, "Council Seeks 2nd Five Flags Study," Telegraph Herald, November 6, 2018, p. 1A

25. Hinga, Allie, "More Five Flags Studies Could Top $100K," Telegraph Herald, February 22, 2019, p. 1

26. Fisher, Benjamin, "City Approves Five Flags FY20 Budget," Telegraph Herald, April 21, 2019, p. 17A

27. Barton, Thomas J. "Study: $75 million for Five Flags Upgrade," Telegraph Herald, November 9, 2019, p. 1A

28. Barton, Thomas J. "Council Sets Fall Date for Five Flags Vote," Telegraph Herald, Jan. 7. 2020, p. 1A

29. Barton, Thomas J. "Council Approves Five Flags Ballot Language," Telegraph Herald, February 19, 2020, p. 1A

30. Barton, Thomas J., "Van Milligen: Table Vote on Five Flags Until 2022," Telegraph Herald, July 3, 2020, p. 1

31. Kruse, John, "Five Flags Center Sees Steep Drop in Ticket Sales," Telegraph Herald, September 22, 2021, p. 1A