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Coralville Wants Out of Bidding War Rain Forest Project

Organizers Say They Will Entertain Other 'Firm Offers;' Dubuque Might Be One of the Possible Alternatives

Associated Press

Dubuque Telegraph Herald

December 9, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, 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 Dubuque Telegraph Herald.]

CORALVILLE (AP) - The bidding war for a proposed indoor rain forest has begun - but Coralville wants no part of it.

Organizers of The Environmental Project told city officials Thursday they will consider other locations to build their rain forest after negotiations faltered again.

Project leaders said Coralville remains a possibility, but city officials indicated they're not interested in competing with other potential sites.

Instead, the city will consider other uses for the 22 acres near Interstate 80 that was allotted for the rain forest.

"There's not a commitment there," said state Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, who participated in Thursday's discussions. "I was hoping it would have moved forward more, but it certainly didn't."

The two sides have negotiated for months and have not agreed on a land transfer, funding or control over the rain forest.

The project in Coralville would have involved building an indoor rain forest on a former industrial site along the Iowa River.

Rain forest organizers said they have received and will consider "firm offers" from other cities interested in hosting the project. Among the possibilities are Des Moines and Dubuque, which already had received a visit from project officials during negotiations with Coralville.

"We've had good people reach out to us," said David Oman, the project's executive director.

"They also understand the economic lift that would accrue from creating a large signature destination attraction in our state."

Project organizers, including Des Moines businessman Ted Townsend, have worked for several years to raise money to build the rain forest, including a 1-million-gallon aquarium, education center, multimedia theater and restored prairie.

Officials estimate the construction phase will create more than 500 jobs and 200 permanent jobs if it opens. They estimate the rain forest will attract up to 1.5 million visitors each year, inject an estimated $187 million annually into the state economy and attract tourists worldwide.