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Rain Forest May be Drying Up for Coralville

Angie Meng

The Daily Iowan

December 12, 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.]

Coralville city officials said on Sunday they are beginning to look at other options for the 22 acres of land near the First Avenue-Interstate 80 interchange - originally set to be occupied by 4.5-acre indoor rain forest.

Though the officials insist they are still in the fight to nab the $180 million endeavor, to be built by the Iowa Environmental/Education Project, officials are mulling other options, such as an indoor water park, they said.

"We are looking at all of our options," city administrator Kelly Hayworth said. "If the board decides it wants Coralville for the project, we'll go with it. Coralville is still the best location for the project."

Coralville has been the focus for the project since 2000, but in a conference last week, city officials said they would not compete with other cities for the rain forest - effectively opening up the endeavor for other sites.

Project executive director David Oman said on Sunday that so far, eight to nine communities have either offered land or have shown some interest in the endeavor.

Such locations include Tiffin, four miles west of the proposed site in Coralville, Riverside, south of Coralville, Dubuque, and Des Moines.

"We are not leaning anywhere yet," Oman said. "These are all prospective locations that have come our way because of comments from Coralville. People have understood that it might not work out there."

The project's board will meet this week to discuss the matter and consider options, he said.

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, who listened in on a telephone conference on Dec. 8, said the two main issues were Coralville's investment in the project and the endeavor's leadership.

"I sat in, mainly because I'm a mad taxpayer," Jacoby said. "We've paid $3 million in taxes and don't know where it's gone."

Coralville has spent $30 million in setting aside the land, staff time, and lost revenues, he said, but project officials still want Coralville to raise an additional $40 million.

Oman and the board of directors need to raise that money, not Coralville, he said.

"They are playing games with us, as far as committing to Coralville," Jacoby said. "After five years, they're telling us they don't know where they are going to put the rain forest. We can't commit money if they aren't going to commit to the site."

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