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City to Eye Design

Angie Meng

The Daily Iowan

December 8, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by The Daily Iowan, 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 Daily Iowan.]

Several Coralville officials said Wednesday they will not legally transfer 22 acres of land to the Iowa Environmental/Education Project - a binding stipulation project officials have leveled on the five Coralville councilors.

Officials from both sides will meet today to make decisions that will make or break the 4.5-acre artificial rainforest project in Coralville.

Councilor Tom Gill, who has long opposed the $180 million endeavor, said the main issue in the spotlight of the discussions is the land transfers.

"We are not going to release the land," he said. "In the original contract, our intention was to lease it, if anything, and there has been no talk of relinquishing the land."

Gill added he does not think legally, the city can hand the 22 acres of land located First Avenue-Interstate 80 interchange in Coralville.

Three weeks ago, former Gov. Robert Ray, the chairman of the project's board of directors, sent a letter to Coralville Mayor Jim Fausett requesting an extra 8 acres of land and $40 million in private funds from the city, among other requests.

"Coralville opted to not respond and hold a meeting instead," project executive director David Oman said Wednesday. "The purpose of this meeting is to learn their response [to the letter]."

Oman added that officials will also discuss if the $30 million Coralville has already funneled toward the rainforest project will count toward the $40 million project officials now want.

"We also want to make sure there is a clear sense of full support from Coralville's council," Oman said. "In order for us to move forward, we need to have a relationship where the council is behind the project. We can't proceed with a split council."

City administrator Kelly Hayworth said Wednesday that Coralville's main issues are not only the transfer of land, fundraising, and designs, but also concerns with the project's management. But Hayworth declined to elaborate.

Meanwhile, Hayworth said he did not know if Coralville officials will be able to see a draft of architectural plans for the rain forest at the meeting, as the city had previously requested.

"We will talk about all the details and see whether we can work them all out or not," he said. "And then, we will decide once and for all."

Councilor John Lundell said project officials had not yet met with councilors due to open-meetings laws.

"Discussions that are sensitive, like this one, can be hard with media there because there are things that need to be discussed that wouldn't be," Lundell said, adding that this meeting will not be open to the public because there will only be two of the five councilors there, and the law says you need the majority of the council. "I'm very optimistic that both sides will be open and honest about the issues. Whether we can get around those issues, I don't know."

Lundell agreed the potential transfer of land will be the major issue at the meeting.

"We are very firm that we won't give up the land," he said. "Coralville will always maintain ownership."