Dubuque Creative Lab plans expansion in Monticello

City Council
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     An exciting venture is coming to Monticello…

     During the May 4 Monticello City Council meeting, it was announced that the Welter family was gifting the former Dollar General building to the City of Monticello.

     City Administrator Doug Herman and several community leaders have been working to bring the Dubuque Creative Adventure Lab and Innovation Lab to Monticello. Both programs will co-exist inside the building on E. First Street.

     Those helping with the cause are Cammie Greif, Lisa Stadtmueller, and Deb Bowman.

     This will be the first time the Dubuque-based facility has considered opening a branch in another community.

     “The Monticello location will be our first Discovery Lab location outside of Dubuque and we are very excited to join your community,” stated Jordan DeGree, executive director of the Creative Adventure Lab in Dubuque, in a letter to the City of Monticello.

     DeGree said the old Dollar General building lends itself perfectly to this partnership due to multiple levels.

     Both the Creative Adventure Lab and Innovation Lab would share space within the building. The Creative Adventure Lab serves as a children’s science museum of sorts with interactive activities for kids to take part in. The Innovation Lab would serve local entrepreneurs and small businesses needing space to start up their businesses and co-work.

     Throughout the city’s Downtown Assessment project, in connection with Main Street Iowa, numerous residents said they wanted to see something done with the old Dollar General/Dime Store. This appears to be such an opportunity.

     Before anything can begin, the city needs to conduct an environmental assessment and asbestos inspection. DeGree said they would reimburse the city up to $20,000 for any expenses incurred.

     Herman said when he shared this idea with the Welters, they were glad to see something like this take shape in Monticello, and felt it was great use of the old Dollar General.

     “They were very much supportive of family-friendly use,” he said.

     This project comes at no cost to the city.

     “With the possibilities we have, we’re pretty excited about this,” said DeGree. “Something like this can foster creativity and innovation outside of Dubuque.

     He said this would also connect area communities to Monticello, bringing people here to take advantage of the programs.

     “You’re fortunate to have amazing thinkers already in place in Monticello to help,” praised DeGree of Greif, Stadtmueller, and Bowman.

     Stadtmueller said she is very much in support of something like this, having previously shared her vision with the city council last year, along with Greif. “As a mom with young kids, this is an amazing opportunity for our community to have in-house,” said Stadtmueller.

     Bowman, who’s been an advocate for bringing a children’s museum to Monticello, will now see her vision come to life. “I want to see this feature things we have and highlight the creative aspects of Monticello,” said Bowman. “This will be something nobody else outside of Monticello has. It’ll be a real draw for us.”

     Greif said many entrepreneurs start at a young age thanks to their exposure to creative experiences. This is a win-win for Monticello.

     DeGree said the Creative Lab in Dubuque sees roughly 25,000 kids a year from ages 1 to 12. They also offer adult programming, too.

     They do charge admission for children and adults, as well as offer an annual pass. DeGree said he sees collaborating with Monticello on admission passes, allowing people to use both facilities in both communities for one price. “We can have a creative cross-flow between the two,” he said.

     While the Dubuque location is open seven days a week, DeGree anticipates Monticello starting at just a few days a week to see how the attendance goes at first.

     Herman asked Monticello Library Director Michelle Turnis if this would be competition for the library. Quite the opposite. Turnis said she could see the library partnering with the Creative Lab on programming for children, even allowing it to expand.

     “I think this will be a fabulous addition to the community,” praised Turnis.

     Herman said a project like this is the best way to utilize a vacant building in the downtown district, noting it’s not likely the downtown would return to 100 percent retail.

     “Other cities would be jealous of something like this,” he said. “I see nothing but success here.”

     Council member Dave Goedken was hesitant to see the city invest much money into the project should this fall apart. “I don’t want to see a lot of taxpayer dollars invested and not have this used,” he said. “I’d be great if the city was involved at a minimum and let the remodeling fall on someone else.”

     The council did approve of the transfer of the property from the Welters to the city. In the future, the building would then be transferred to Creative Adventure Lab, Inc.


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