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Coralville Given Deadline on Rainforest Project

Associated Press and the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

November 24, 2005 7:10 AM CST

[Note: This material is copyright by the Associated Press and the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, 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 copyright owners.]

CORALVILLE  (AP) -- Coralville has been given a Dec. 2 deadline to provide more land for a proposed indoor rainforest or risk losing the project to another city.

Organizers of The Environmental Project sent a letter this month to Coralville leaders outlining their demands, including increasing the city's 22-acre site offer by at least three to eight acres.

Project leaders also want written support from all City Council members, as well as confirmation on the city's ability to raise $40 million through local donors.

Earlier this month Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, proposed legislation requiring that project leaders raise at least $50 million in private funds by December 2007 before federal funding can be used.

The Environmental Project can't wait a year to know whether Coralville's money will be there, according to the letter written by Robert Ray, the project's board chairman.

"More than ever, our board and team believe there is a sense of urgency in determining, once and for all, whether the proposed Iowa River Landing site and the project's relationship with Coralville will work near and long term," Ray wrote.

Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said Wednesday the city could provide the project additional land, but wanted more information before commenting on the project's other requests.

"I could not tell you honestly today whether we can reach terms today or not. I just have no idea," Hayworth said. "That's why we need to have a face-to-face meeting and stop sending agreements back and forth and just once and for all determine this."

The Environmental Project and Coralville have been negotiating terms for the transfer of city-owned land for an artificial rainforest just south of Interstate 80 near the Iowa River.

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

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

Coralville officials want a say in how the rainforest is built and the right to make budget changes until the rainforest opens in 2009.

No meeting date has been set between the groups.