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Making New Plans for Rain Forest Site

Coralville Wants to Create Destination Area for Families

Brian Morelli

Iowa City Press-Citizen

Saturday, April 1, 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.]

CORALVILLE -- The Environmental Project has decided on a new direction for the indoor rain forest concept, but Coralville appears to have shifted gears as many as nine months ago.

The multimillion-dollar project was once slated for 22.5 acres of the Iowa River Landing, a 180-acre plot south of Interstate 80, east of First Avenue and bordered to the south and east by the Iowa River. While keeping the door open, Coralville leaders came to the conclusion in October that the rain forest would locate elsewhere.

"This is the best available land in the state," said Joshua Schamberger, president of the Iowa City/ Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We are 3½ hours away from 18 million people."

Schamberger volunteered to help direct an all-inclusive community planning process, which he unveiled earlier this week. The goal is to create a destination area, he said, that would include a featured attraction with complimentary development.

The $60 million Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, scheduled to open Aug. 15, is the first piece of the puzzle.

Initial thoughts are for an urban feel and pedestrian-friendly landscape, which could include restaurants, entertainment, education, residential space and incorporation of the Iowa River, Schamberger said. One early idea is an international theme that reflects the diverse UI community.

A tentative schedule calls for finalizing a 14- to 17-member steering committee by April 21, extensive community planning meetings in June and July before soliciting requests for proposals from developers Aug. 4.

Community involvement and input likely would come from officials and residents of Coralville, Iowa City and North Liberty, students and leaders of UI and University Hospitals, the Chamber of Commerce, county officials and local media.

"This process will be inclusive, transparent and accountable. I think the Environmental Project management struggled with that," Schamberger said. "Our goal is to have the community rally behind this."

Consultant Deanna Trumbull of Trumbull Consulting has been in charge of marketing the land for Coralville for the past 18 months.

"Our focus is to create a strong destination that people want to come and spend a week or a few days," she said.

The layout of the land is still flexible, she said, but they would want the featured attraction highly visible from I-80 and to ensure the district maintained a pedestrian-friendly environment.

"We want people to be able to walk throughout the district without getting in a car," she said.

Coralville leaders already have begun collecting ideas by visiting riverside developments in Chattanooga, Tenn.; Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio; San Antonio and Kansas City, Mo.

"We are a very culturally diverse area. We want this development to represent who we are. There will be a very strong international and historical component. We want to be able to tell a story of who we as a community are," she said.

The area would be a phased-in development, and work on a feature attraction could begin within 24 months, she said.

"We are now in control of the process and carrying our goals through to finality," said city council member John Lundell. "I feel much better that we aren't waiting for someone else to plan the next step."