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Speaker says rain forest helped town's economy

A project similar to one proposed for Iowa has drawn 8 million visitors

Perry Beeman

Des Moines Register

September 7, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Des Moines Register, 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 Des Moines Register.]

The Eden Project in Cornwall, England, something of a model for the planned Earthpark indoor rain forest project in Iowa, has drawn more than 8 million visitors in its first five years, Eden's educational coordinator said in Des Moines Wednesday.

John Ellison added that the project in five years has pumped $1.3 billion into the economy in an area that once had fallen on hard economic times. About half of Cornwall visitors say in polls that Eden was a main reason they traveled to the area.

Ellison will speak on "Gardens for Life" - an Eden program promoting gardens in the United Kingdom, Africa and India - at Drake University's "Gardens for All" conference today through Saturday at the Olmsted Center.

Earthpark, the Iowa project, plans to pick a site for an indoor rain forest, aquarium and education center in Iowa later this month. The finalists are Pella and Riverside. The $155 million facility is expected to be under construction next year and open during the 2009-10 school year.

"You have to believe in it for it to work," Ellison said. "This whole place is about education, but not about sitting in a classroom," he said of Eden. "This is about changing hearts and minds. What kinds of citizens do we want? How can we engage people?"

Eden now employs 450 to 500 workers, and had as many as 600 workers during ramp-up in the indoor rain forest and education center, built in an old mine. The project has 2,500 vendors, many of which have agreed to energy-efficient work and other "sustainable" techniques in return for long-term contracts. Today, 83 percent of all catering supplies come from Cornwall.

"This is not just a tourist attraction," Ellison said.

Eden's annual economic impact of $250 million is about twice what Earthpark projects for the Iowa project, which is to be designed by the same firm that designed Eden, Grimshaw Architects.

"Because we have been so successful, we've determined that if you go for it, you can do it," Ellison said. "Success builds success."

Eden has exceeded attendance projections and drew 500,000 during its initial construction, before it opened.

"We are so enamored with what the team at Eden is doing," said David Oman, Earthpark's executive director.