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Growing More in the Millwork District

The Millwork District was very attractive when we researched the right location of where we wanted to establish our brewpub roots. The soil was fertile for retail growth as patrons would experience such positivity from the historic and rustic vibes that adorned the bricks of these tall and expansive buildings.

If the writing is on the wall as they say, history is transcribed within the Portland mortar that stacks these bricks four and five stories above. We took a leap of faith when we looked past the success of  lower Main Street, into the promising yet underdeveloped district that was off the beaten path of what Dubuque is accustomed to.

Millwork District - Novelty Iron Works Building
Millwork District - Novelty Iron Works Building

Photo Credit - Benjamin Briones

It would be challenging to disrupt the routines and habits of the locals and expect them to step into something new and exotic. Success would require patience and resources, both of which are difficult to afford in today’s world. Reward is not without risk. 

Millwork District Today

Fast forward 6 years and here we are today, ready to reinvest into our backyard as the timing seems to be in proper alignment. Luxury loft apartments were a big success to start the development in this area and continue to be in high demand.

Developers are planning to build more single unit loft apartments, established businesses are relocating their headquarters into newly renovated spaces, while younger businesses begin to relocate and expand into the outer area buildings, as they too see the potential of being as close to the action as possible.

All of this movement is driving the demand and potential for more development in commercial and residential outlets. The retail  restaurants and businesses that have survived their early start up phase, while navigating the disruptive forces of 2019-2020 Covid pandemic, continue  to support the ‘work, live, play’ ethos that embodies the District’s distinct persona.

With strong roots now established, diversity of offerings from these healthier establishments seems to be the likely predictive evolution of what’s to become in the area in the next 5-10 years. 

Growing the 7 Hills Event Space

7 Hills is planning to grow our events program to now service a second establishment that can address occupancies of 150-450 people. Our current space allows for up to 150 people at maximum seated capacity.

7 Hills Ballroom in the Millwork District
7 Hills Ballroom in the Millwork District

This will provide us the balance between small and large, with our brewpub location situated comfortably between the two spaces. We have worked out an agreement to occupy the former Millwork Ballroom that was being operated by the building owners, allowing the landlords to step back into their original desired roles of property management, while also allowing us to focus on our growth within the food and beverage management industry.

I suspect the boutique hotel to be developed above this event space once the market achieves equilibrium, which may take a few more years to self-correct. Backpocket has also been extremely successful with their growth, and I would hedge my bets that their path to success continues to evolve slowly and steadily.

Brazen Open Kitchen has been successful in their diversification within the area as well, elevating an established breakfast operation in Galena, IL while also starting up a successful food truck as well. I would double down on seeing them grow into a new concept in the area within a few years as well. 

The Current Business Model is Changing

Current business trends reflect the decline in commercial office space occupancy across the country, so logically it could be assumed this would also be the case in the Millwork District.

However, due to the competitive rates, the desire for new, and demand to be near the hip and cool, I would go against the grain and bet on the continued growth of office space rentals in this area, especially amongst those leasing.

As businesses compete for the younger workforce while baby boomers retire en masse, offering enticing amenities to employees becomes a primary benefits package target. Incentivizing employees to return to the office becomes extremely challenging as workers can migrate to companies who allow them to work from home, despite the risk of a decrease in productivity.

An engaging and attractive neighborhood such as the Millwork District now becomes a strong asset  to the companies willing to relocate to this area.

Dupaco Community Credit Union

We have witnessed this most recently with Dupaco Community Credit Union occupying the top 3 floors for their H.Q., while leasing out 50% of the remaining 2 floors, with other negotiations currently under contract to achieve 100% occupancy.

Dupaco beat the odds against the national trends. We envision this to be the micro to the macrocosm of what is yet to come. 


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