Return to Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site

Return to Nicholas Johnson's Coralville Rain Forest Web Site

Rain Forest Looking at Sites

Tiffin Possible New Home for Project

Brian Morelli

Iowa City Press-Citizen

January 13, 2006

[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.]

While the Environmental Project staff remains in an information gathering stage for potential sites for the $180 million indoor rain forest, one city's interest is waning.

Once considered a possible site, Dubuque's National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium is not planning to actively compete for the massive project, a museum official said Thursday.

"We are not out of the discussion, but we aren't submitting a formal proposal (for the rain forest)," said Jerry Enzler, executive director of the museum and aquarium.

In December, Dubuque public information official Randy Gehl referred to a statement, which confirmed that the city had talked with project officials about the feasibility of merging the rain forest with the museum and aquarium.

Enzler said he is open to some components of the rain forest project, but he doesn't see how the project, as described, could come to Dubuque in its entirety.

"It doesn't quite fit with our overall vision. (Our vision) is the environmental and historical (aspects) of the Mississippi River and rivers of America. Development of the size they are talking about would not be -- it would be compatible (in part), but might be overwhelming to our overall goal," Enzler said.

The Environmental Project staff did not answer questions Thursday about potential sites or a time frame for the project, which calls for an enclosed 4.5-acre rain forest, a more than 1 million gallon aquarium, and classroom and art performance space.

Several Iowa cities, including Tiffin, Dubuque, Des Moines, Grinnell and Riverside, have been actively collecting information and have been in contact with project officials since project leaders and Coralville officials cooled their relationship in December. Coralville had been the focus of the proposal since 2000, but quarrels over the land and the city's funding involvement led project officials to announce they would entertain other sites. Coralville officials, who did not return phone calls Thursday, said at the time they would not compete with other communities for the project.

Jim Angstman, vice president of land development for Regency Land Services, is putting together a proposal for a Tiffin location.

Told about Dubuque, Angstman said one less competitor is good news for Johnson and Linn counties.

"It enhances the chances of the project staying in the corridor," he said.

Angstman said a couple of Environmental Project officials walked a site in Tiffin at the end of December, and he has had sporadic communication with them since.

The site that Angstman is proposing would be part of the $200 million Villages of Tiffin project northwest of interstates 80 and 380. He said Regency would be willing to make adjustments to the Villages to accommodate the rain forest, if that was a sticking point.

"In all honesty, I wish Coralville would get the site, but the only other corridor site that could get the project would be Tiffin. And I don't want it to go to Dubuque or Des Moines. I don't see anyone jumping off the Coralville bandwagon until it is apparent it is not an option," Angstman said.

He said he thought the officials liked the spot in Tiffin. He added that even if the location received more serious attention, financing would be a major issue.

Angstman said he thought the Environmental Project wanted to select a site sometime in March.

Ted Stilwill, the Environmental Project's former education director, said it is not unusual for large projects to stop and start.

Stilwill announced Wednesday that he would step away from the project, which is currently low on finances, until a destination has been chosen.

"At this point, I don't know if it is destined for Eastern Iowa. With every site, there are pros and cons," Stilwill said Thursday, adding that the project wants to keep things quiet until more is known.

Bill Menner, executive director of Poweshiek Iowa Development, said there are a couple of sites off Interstate 80 near Grinnell that would suitable for the rain forest.

He said he has had discussion with project officials, which he said began at the end of November.

Menner said he had to have all the information to them by the end of January and that he hoped to hear back from project officials by the beginning of February.