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Riverside's 15 minutes of fame continues


Iowa City Press-Citizen

August 7, 2006

"Riverside . . . faces some major questions . . .. Those questions include whether to ante up public money for Earthpark's proposed rain forest -- a bet that we would caution any municipality against making."
[Note: This material is copyright by the Press-Citizen, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Iowa City Press-Citizen.]

It makes sense that Star Trek's Captain James T. Kirk would be born in a town with a casino. During the series' third episode, "The Corbomite Maneuver," the crew seemed to be at the mercy of a menacing alien. When First Officer Spock declared, "Checkmate," Kirk offered one of the series' more quoted lines -- "Not chess, Mr. Spock. Poker" -- and successfully bluffed his way from near annihilation to cocktails with his former foe.

In some ways, Riverside has been bluffing ever since the City Council voted in the mid-1980s to declare the small town the future birthplace of the fictional Kirk. The decision led to Riverside's twist on the traditional small town festival -- Trek Fest -- but that annual event was more Fest than Trek until that fateful day in 2004, when actor William Shatner himself appeared in the town and announced he wanted Riverside to be the setting for his sci-fi film, "Invasion Iowa."

As we all discovered less than two weeks later, the film was in fact a reality TV series from which Riverside gained a national audience on Spike TV. Rather than ridiculing the town, however, the producers unwittingly presented Riverside as the show's best character, showcasing both the idiosyncrasies and the qualities of Riverside's residents. The town was being punk'd, but it displayed itself as a viable and welcoming community.

For almost any other small town, things would have settled down after such 15 minutes of fame, and life eventually would have returned to normal. But -- as shown in the photo display in today's Press-Citizen -- what counts as "normal" in Riverside is in a massive state of transformation. With the upcoming opening of a multimillion-dollar casino and golf course, it's unlikely that Riverside will ever get to be the same little town again.

Although there's probably not a direct correlation between the casino's success and Riverside's national exposure on "Invasion Iowa," the timing of the casino seems fortuitous to those who want to grow the town. Indeed, various economic forces seem to be feeding into each other until development takes on a life of its own.

Not surprisingly, some long-term residents don't want to lose the small-town atmosphere. But the changes mean that Riverside is no longer bluffing. Its casino is a reality. Despite concerns from county law enforcement and many residents, the discussion has long moved away from "Should Riverside have a casino?" to "Is the city and county infrastructure ready to deal with the changes that the casino, golf course and other new development will bring?" What were once dreams and possibilities, now need to be roads, traffic control, water, sewer and other necessary services.

Riverside is bracing itself for the change. The town has survived for generations -- and supposedly will last at least until Kirk is born in 2233 -- but it faces some major questions over what kind of town it will be for future generations. Those questions include whether to ante up public money for Earthpark's proposed rain forest -- a bet that we would caution any municipality against making.