Rain Forest Discord Seen in E-mail;

Project, City Officials Say Issues Have Been Resolved

Adam Pracht

Iowa City Press-Citizen

October 30, 2004

The founder of the proposed $180 million rain forest project scolded Coralville's top two officials in a strongly worded e-mail last month, but that conflict appears to have healed for now.

An e-mail project founder Ted Townsend sent Sept. 13 was one of many documents released this week in response to an open records request filed in September with the city of Coralville. The Press-Citizen requested many documents relating to the Iowa Environmental/Education Project -- which includes a 4.5 acre rain forest -- the $60 million Marriott Hotel and Conference Center and the proposed intermodal project to provide a parking and transportation hub.

Townsend sent the e-mail with a subject line of "truth rules" to City Administrator Kelly Hayworth, Mayor Jim Fausett and carbon copied it to David Oman, chief administrator for the Iowa Environmental/Education Project. In the e-mail, Townsend said he admires the town for its "forward thinking" but then wrote that the rain forest project should guide development of the area and not take second place to the Marriott.

"We will not take short shrift to another everyday, uninspiring hotel," Townsend said in the e-mail. "You are so focused on completing that standard project, you are selling short the goose that will lay enormous golden eggs."

Project officials have said it will create 500 construction jobs during 2 ½ years and create 300 permanent jobs with a "ripple effect" of 2,500 jobs in Iowa. The project expects to attract 1.1 to 1.5 million visitors a year making $187 million a year and more than $2 billion a decade.

Critics, however, have questioned where the remaining $90 million in funds needed to construct the project will come from, whether the rain forest can operate in the black and whether it will attract the projected number of visitors.

Townsend also criticized the design of the hotel, saying it doesn't match the look of the rain forest project.

"NO ONE is impressed with the Marriott design," Townsend said in the e-mail. "Frankly, as we present the project around the country, the architecture and materials are always seen as disappointing and we find ourselves apologizing for them."

Townsend's e-mail also named several organizations and corporations that the project is trying to bring on board, including GE, Ford and Hewlett-Packard.

Nancy Quellhorst, vice president of the project, confirmed that project leaders are hoping these organizations will provide in-kind services or investments to close the $90 million funding gap.

The e-mail suggests that these businesses don't have any particular loyalty to Coralville, however.

"Frankly, none of them care a hoot about Coralville even now," Townsend said in the e-mail. "They are deciding to come there because they believe in our project and ITS potential to impact all humanity. Precisely where the project is built means nothing to them."

Hayworth said, however, he knew of no plans to end or move the project.

On Friday, Hayworth said the e-mail was an overreaction to concerns about a district energy plan to provide heating and cooling to the rain forest project, the Marriott and the intermodal center. Hayworth said at the time the e-mail was written, the city was planning to move ahead with providing on-site energy to the hotel to meet a December construction deadline.

Townsend, a Des Moines businessman, was traveling Friday and did not return a phone call left at his office. Hayworth said he understood that Townsend was concerned the Marriott would no longer be interested in a district plan if its needs were already taken care of. That would take out a major player in the project, Hayworth said, and possibly put an end to a district plan to provide the energy needs for all three projects.

Hayworth said the problem has been resolved because consultants have told the city it is possible to integrate boilers existing at Marriott into a district plan. He said in the next few months, consultants would be working with the city to come up with a fixed plan.

Hayworth also said he was disappointed at Townsend's comments but thought that it was a result of Townsend's passion for the project and his concerns that a critical piece of the development was failing.

Quellhorst agreed and said free discourse could result in a stronger partnership.

"I think in the heat of the moment, he was looking at the situation though his lens," Quellhorst said. "In the end, we seemed to be able to come together and reach an agreement."

Hayworth and Quellhorst said they thought the e-mail would be an isolated incident.

Hayworth said the e-mail did not sway city plans because both projects are priorities for Coralville.

"I know Ted was very stressed and disappointed at that time about how the district energy plan might work out," Hayworth said. "The city is obviously going to do what's best for the city of Coralville, and we obviously think that the Environmental Project is a good thing, and we also think that the hotel and conference center is a good thing."

Hayworth said much of the conflict was smoothed over by a conference call that included Townsend, Hayworth, Fausett and Oman. Hayworth said during that call, the issue of the hotel's design also was addressed, with an explanation to Townsend that it was part of a long-standing plan for the area's appearance.

"Is it how he would pick it?" Hayworth said Friday. "No."

Quellhorst said the conflict has not held up progress on beginning construction in mid-2005 and a targeted completion date near April 22, 2008 -- Earth Day.

"It's just like any other relationship," Quellhorst said. "It's not going to be perfect all the time."

Letter from Townsend

Iowa City Press-Citizen

October 30, 2004

Here is the complete text of the e-mail Ted Townsend, founder of the rain forest project, sent to Coralville city leaders.

What do you think? • Send your reaction to Ted Townsend’s e-mail to reporter Adam Pracht at adpracht@press-citizen.com.

Hi Kelly and Jim!

I am writing to express my concern for the relationship developing between Coralville and the Iowa Environmental Project.

The trend is not good. From the beginning, you, on behalf of your town, have been forward thinking and eager to do what’s right for Coralville and it’s future. I admire that.

However, your drive to complete the hotel/conference center has evidently blinded you to the true nature of the opportunity presented by the REALITY of the Iowa Environmental Project.

The rainforest learning attraction is not just another every day deal to be added to your list of community improvements. We are being treated like that.

Dave Oman, Governor Ray, and I have worked tirelessly and intensely to create a unique global center for learning that can make Coralville famous around the world.

I, personally, have spent a fortune to deliver this project to YOUR town and now we are being treated like some common retailer who might rent a few square feet of space in the local strip mall.

Kelly and Jim, GE, Ford, SGI, HP, Interface, USGBC, the US Department of Energy, the US Department of Education, CAA, and all the other world class entities WE are about to bring to your town, never heard of Coralville until WE introduced them to it. Frankly, none of them care a hoot about Coralville even now. They are deciding to come there because they believe in our project and IT’S potential to impact all humanity. Precisly where the project is built means nothing to them. They want to do the biggest, best project all of us together can create, and if it’s somewhere other than Coralville, they don’t care. Coralville is on the cusp of this opportunity because of us.

Just this week, the United States Green Building Council president joined our board. He is eager to make Coralville the LEED certified “neighborhood” in the world. That means the whole development from our rainforest south to the strip must be thought of as one great green project.

The group in China that gave Coralville the award for the best small city in the world did so because of this project.

All of this is possible because of the mission and commitment of our project. And……………

The very common hotel/convention center deal is driving all your decisions. THAT ISN’T RIGHT!

We will not take short shrift to another everyday, uninspiring hotel. You are so focused on completing that standard project, you are selling short the goose that will lay enormous golden eggs.

EVERY design consideration on the whole site should be decided based on what is best for the rainforest attraction. It’s economic impact on your town is orders of magnitude greater than ALL the other stuff to be built around it. The $50 million from Uncle Sam guarantees the creation of the coolest new attraction on Earth. The titans of corporate America are collaborating to formulate a master plan that will impress the most sceptical critique. And……you are letting the hotel deal influence the potential of the larger, far more important, big picture.

NO ONE is impressed with the Marriott design. Frankly, as we present the project around the country, the architecture and materials are always seen as disappointing and we find ourselves apologizing for them. This is not the time or place to do an 1890’s theme. Red brick is not right for the overall, forward looking statement of the region.

Certainly, the whole area MUST be served by a district heating and cooling plant. This is not negotiable. To stubbornly plow ahead with the old plan is just not right.

You and we TOGETHER have a unique opportunity to do something truly great and meaningful. If it takes a short delay in the original schedule for opening the hotel, SO WHAT?! There is NO RISK of losing anything. Hotels will line up to come here as they see the truth of the attraction. We owe it to the citizens of Coralville and the mission of our project to do this right. In the end, Coralville can have the coolest new town on Earth, with tax paying businesses beyond anything imaginable before we showed up. IF WE DO IT RIGHT.

Accept the wisdom of a district heating and cooling plant. It IS the right thing to do FOR CORALVILLE. Quit worrying about meeting the old schedule for hotel completion. Do it right. Your hotel will be full forever, IF it fits the overall site development potential. Right now it falls far short. If necessary, we can bring players to the table who can help Coralville in any short term cash flow problems. Please work with use to make our mutual future all it can be.

Jim will be back from Eden in just a few weeks. Please hold every decision until we can discuss his opinion of our opportunity after having seen the proof of concept. We will be substantially better and of great impact than even Eden’s fabulous success.

With true respect, friendship, and confidence,