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Rain Forest Slows Tiffin Plannig

Development Waiting for Site Selection

Brian Morelli

Iowa City Press-Citizen

March 7, 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.]

As a site selection committee evaluates seven Iowa sites to determine a preferred location for an indoor rain forest, planning for a massive development in Tiffin is in a "holding pattern."

Since 2000, Environ-mental Project officials had been discussing with Coralville the $180 million project that would include a 4.5-acre indoor rain forest and a one million gallon aquarium. However, talks stalled in December and project officials said they would entertain offers from other cities.

The site selection committee plans to announce its choice of Coralville, Des Moines, Dubuque, Grinnell, Pella, Riverside or Tiffin at a March 29 board meeting, David Oman, the Environ-ment Project chief administrator, said Monday.

In Tiffin, developers attracted by the potential business boon that a nearby rain forest would create say planning for the $200 million Villages of Tiffin is on hold.

"We are all in a holding pattern waiting to see what happens," said Jim Angstman, vice president of Regency Land Services and the High Development Corp., which is spearheading the Villages of Tiffin project.

"When things started to go south with Coralville and rain forest interest started to die, interest in (Village of Tiffin) went way down," he said.

The 200-acre Villages of Tiffin project, which would be between Jasper and Ireland avenues north of Interstate 80, would include an outlet mall, hotel, water park, restaurants, condos and office space.

"We laid out a lot of money on the thought that the rain forest is going to be in Johnson County," Angstman said. "Some of the initial interest did coincide with the rain forest going in Coralville. We had thought of marketing (Villages of Tiffin) as a less expensive option for businesses, and they would have the same access to some of the touristy type of attractions."

Angstman helped organize Tiffin's site information, possibly as part of the Villages. He said he is not trying to compete with Coralville, instead providing an option to keep the rain forest in Johnson County should Coralville not be chosen. All he can do now is wait until a decision is announced.

"We feel Johnson County is the best location for the rain forest," Angstman said.

In Coralville, work has been proceeding on a new Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. A project of the rain forest's caliber would benefit the hotel and the community, but the two projects are not directly related, city administrator Kelly Hayworth said.

"As far as I am concerned, they don't have any relationship. The hotel can and will move forward on its own," Hayworth said.

He added, "any time you can get a project like that in the community, it helps."

Oman said the site selection committee has spent hundreds of hours collectively on the process. He said they have met several times in person with site representatives as well as in telephone conferences and visiting several sites.

Among many considerations, the committee would look at the parcel of land, local financial assistance and long-term partnering, Oman said.

"Location is very important to us, which is why the work is taking so much time and why we are taking this on with such due diligence," Oman said.