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Strings Tied to Rain Forest Land
Coralville Seeks Project Aassurances

Adam Pracht

Iowa City Press-Citizen

August 10, 2005

[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.]

CORALVILLE -- City councilors got their first look Tuesday night at a first draft of an agreement to put tight stipulations on transferring city land to the planners of a $180 million enclosed rain forest.

The Environmental Project is planned for 22 acres southeast of Interstate 80 and First Avenue and would include a 4.5-acre rain forest, a 1-million gallon aquarium and a venue for outdoor performing arts events.

During Tuesday's work session, the councilors got the rough outline of an agreement that would hold Environmental Project leaders to those promises, among others, in return for the city selling them the 22 acres for only $1.

The agreement still needs to be reviewed by project leaders, who were not present at the work session, and returned to the city with concerns or suggestions.

According to the draft document, the agreement would require project leaders to maintain it as an indoor rain forest, aquarium and educational facility for 21 years and as a "museum quality" tourist attraction in the years following, or else have ownership revert to the city.

The agreement also requires a detailed annual budget submitted to the city until the project opens to the public. It also sets timeline and fund-raising requirements -- after the agreement is approved by the council, the project would have six months to fund the project and have construction contracts in place. A professional fund-raiser also would have to be in place a month after agreement approval.

Finally, the agreement would stipulate that a $50 million federal department of energy grant -- reduced to about $47 million by standard deductions -- could not be transferred to any location other than Coralville for the life of the agreement.

Councilor Tom Gill, who has called on the city to hold the project to fund-raising deadlines, said this was what the city needs to do to ensure the project is completed.

"Basically you're putting down what they say they're going to do," he said.

Councilor John Weihe also expressed support for the agreement, which assistant city attorney Kevin Olson said would be expanded well beyond the three-page draft.

"I haven't heard anything that we were concerned about at this time that this doesn't address," he said.