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Environmental Project Forms Search Committee

Grinnell Officials Make Offer

Associated Press

Iowa City Press-Citizen

December 14, 2005

This story also appeared in the Des Moines Register, December 14, 2005, with the headline, "Grinnell is Interested in Rain Forest, Too."

[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.]

DES MOINES -- The Environmental Project appointed a search committee Tuesday to choose a location for an indoor rain forest expected to draw millions of dollars and tourists to Iowa.

The committee will sift through about 10 proposals and will make a decision in about six weeks, said David Oman, the project's director.

Despite faltered negotiations to build the rain forest in Coralville, project officials still hope to start construction late next year and open it in 2009.

Oman said Grinnell is the latest city to express interest in the project, though he would not share specifics of its offer. Other cities include Dubuque, Des Moines, Riverside, Tiffin and a few that requested anonymity, Oman said.

Coralville still remains a possibility. City and project officials met Tuesday and said in a joint statement that it was a "good discussion." However, funding issues and a land transfer remain unresolved.

Meanwhile, the committee will continue evaluating other cities and setting requirements for a partnership, including funding and control of the project.

"These cities are attracted by the power and magnetism of a special facility that could draw 1 million people," Oman said Tuesday night.

Committee members include project board members Leonard Hadley, former Maytag president; Betsy Roe of Central College in Pella; and Richard D. Johnson, former state auditor from Sheldahl.

The $180 million project is the idea of Des Moines businessman Ted Townsend, whose group is pushing for a 4½ -acre indoor rain forest, a 1-million gallon aquarium and restored prairie.

Officials estimate the rain forest will attract up to 1.5 million visitors each year, inject $187 million annually into the state economy and attract tourists worldwide.

Money remains an issue. Congress approved a measure that requires project organizers to raise $50 million in private funding by December 2007 or lose a matching federal grant.

Oman would not say what financial offers the cities have made.

Grinnell city officials were not immediately available for comment.