A Chicago-based religious group is buying up rental property in downtown Dubuque as an investment to support its work. The group also owns a farm near Bellevue, Iowa, where members plan to build a retreat center.
Love Holy Trinity Blessed Mission has paid $2,041,500 for 10 apartment buildings of varying sizes in and around the Jackson Park neighborhood since October, according to city records.
Ten years ago, local members of the group purchased the 386-acre farm three miles southwest of Bellevue. They gave it to the group in 2004.
The Dubuque properties comprise 90 rental units, many of which have been renovated by a crew of group member/workers from Chicago with help from local members. The units will be rented to raise money for the group, which hopes to become a new religious order within the Roman Catholic Church and must be self-sustaining before that can happen.
“We’re buying buildings up to generate income to support what we want to do. We want to build a mission center, a retreat house, and to support the brothers and sisters who are here already,” said Dick Vogt, of Dubuque, a longtime member of the religious group.
Mission representatives approached property owners, seeking to purchase their buildings. Ann and James Michalski own and live in a duplex on Iowa Street. Last year, Jan Imhof, a Dubuque Mission member, asked Ann Michalski if the building was for sale. She asked again in March and Michalski said it might be available. Imhof toured the building and later offered to purchase it.
“We set a price and said who our Realtor would be and (Imhof) said she will not use a Realtor to buy property. We wouldn’t sell it without using a Realtor, so that was that,” said Michalski, a member of the Dubuque City Council.
Vogt said the group is being fiscally responsible.
“Why pay thousands of dollars to a Realtor when we can do it ourselves through a local bank?” he said.
Vogt and his wife, Marilyn, are some of the original members of the group, which started more than 12 years ago in Chicago and soon thereafter in Dubuque.
Dubuque housing officials say they are surprised by the recent concentration of so many rental units into the hands of one organization, but they seem impressed by how the group is doing business.
“We thought it was rather odd that this same group is buying up all these properties around Jackson Park, which in the past have been owned by lots of different people,” said Kathy Lamb, senior housing inspector for the city. “But they have been perfect landlords. They’ve made improvements to the properties and have done it in a very professional way.”
“The city ought to thank us for what we are doing down there, the improvements we are making,” Dick Vogt said.
Different Mission members purchased the buildings for the group under various for-profit limited liability corporation names, Dick Vogt said. The Vogts’ address is recorded as the owners for many of the corporations.
Retreat center on farm
The Jackson County farm, accessed by a bridge and a long lane leading from Jackson County Z-15, contains a house, gardens and several out buildings. The group has long-term plans to build a retreat center at the farm, with infrastructure to house hundreds of people for periodic retreats.
The mission is renovating the house to create a “quiet place” for the group’s contemplative members to use for prayer and gatherings. Eventually, a larger meeting space will be built for regular gatherings of several hundred.
Vogt said he was moved by God to donate the farm to the mission.
“The mission has moved my heart. What better way to glorify God than by giving back to God and providing a space where other brothers and sisters can grow in holiness by using this property,” he said.
Mission representatives recently met with Jackson County zoning and sanitation officials. Zoning Administrator David Manning said the group’s plan for a retreat center would be possible as a special exception to the county’s agricultural zoning guidelines.
Water and wastewater issues for a large-scale facility such as a retreat center are the state’s jurisdiction. Mike Wade, environmental specialist senior with the Manchester office of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said mission members recently sought information about creating a “public water supply” and a wastewater treatment system, both of which require approved engineered designs.
Luann LeConte, of rural Dubuque, a mission member for 12 years, thinks the retreat center will be both a spiritual and an economic boon to the Bellevue area.
“This is really such a blessing for the community. These are good, holy people. They will pray every day, even for people who are persecuting them,” she said.