Waterfront called key to development

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 16, 2002

The way Rick Dickinson sees it, the only difference between Albert Lea and his hometown of Dubuque, Iowa, is about 230 miles.

Dickinson, director of the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation, said the waterfront development and high-tech renaissance underway in his city are examples Albert Lea can follow. With Freeborn County’s many lakes and access to two interstates, the area has advantages it can run with, he said.

&uot;Your lakefront development, I think, is a key component of community life here in Albert Lea,&uot; Dickinson said.

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The former mayor and Iowa state lawmaker was a guest speaker at the Greater Jobs, Inc. annual meeting Wednesday at the Albert Lea Business Development Center, the new business incubator in the Northaire Industrial Park.

He said the success of Dubuqe &045; which has been ranked 14th nationwide in high-tech growth &045; has been based on teamwork among those in power and the ability to capitalize on what makes the city unique: the Mississippi River.

A $188 million waterfront project, including a new aquarium, river walk, conference center and water park, is nearing completion in Dubuque. Dickinson said it’s an example of how a city can make the most of its natural gifts.

Things weren’t always so rosy, though. Just seven years ago, the city was depressed after its largest employer closed its doors and other industry pulled out.

As the bad news was rolling in, Dickinson went to Duluth for a one-week workshop. There, he met city planner Jerry Kimball &045; who, incidentally, led a workshop in Albert Lea last week on waterfront development.

&uot;I saw the river walk in Duluth, and wondered, ‘Why not in Dubuque?’&uot; he said.

Within seven years, city leaders managed to attract high-tech development, reclaimed run-down and abandoned areas and raised the money for the large waterfront projects &045; mostly from private sources. The city contributed $23 million and the state of Iowa gave a $40 million grant, but the rest came from local, regional and national fundraising.

He said Albert Lea can use its lakes to achieve the same results. He said he’s noticed Albert Lea Lake while driving past on I-35, but has wondered why he never sees anybody using it.

Once he came into the city, he was surprised to see how much it had to offer.

&uot;Quite frankly, you can’t see it unless you’re invited in,&uot; he said.

Coupled with last week’s session with Kimball, where participants placed high priority on the old Farmland site as a key to creating a strong waterfront in Albert Lea, Dickinson’s talk helped put more emphasis on Albert Lea’s lakes as its best economic development tools.

Dubuque’s success shows, however, that the most important tool is people who can work together to make the most of natural gifts, he said.

&uot;This all happened because people worked together,&uot; he said.