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Rain Forest Leaders Visit Riverside

Acreage, Ambiance, Access and $25M to Decide Site

Brian Morelli

Iowa City Press-Citizen

April 26, 2006

"I am overwhelmed with excitement and happiness."
        -- Riverside Mayor Bill Poch

"A facility that teaches people . . . is good but not about a rain forest. Let's talk about what can be done in Iowa; that is more in tune with the ecosystem here."
        -- Riverside constituent Paul Debbins

[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.]

RIVERSIDE -- The synergy created from being virtually side-by-side with a casino and golf course could help land the Environmental Project in Riverside, project founder Ted Townsend said Tuesday.

"You have a remarkable casino and a beautiful location ... the possibility of creating synergy between the two projects is dramatic," Townsend said.

Environmental Project leaders, who are proposing a $155 million project that would include an indoor rain forest, a more than half million gallon aquarium, wetlands and native prairie, met Tuesday with leaders of Riverside and developers of the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort, which is scheduled to open in September.

Developers as well as Mayor Bill Poch think the two projects would benefit each other and could make Riverside a tourist destination that people would travel to and spend a few days at.

The project could be located southeast of highways 22 and 218, about 12 miles south of Iowa City, on plot of land that features a water quarry. The acreage offer was increased to 65, said Dan Kehl, chief executive officer of the casino who is a key part in Riverside's effort to land the rain forest.

Kehl said he and others are willing to negotiate.

"The two projects don't appear necessarily complementary, but the synergy between the two would create the critical mass," Kehl said.

Having enough space is critical to deciding where the project goes. The project's board of directors plan to meet in late May or early June to declare the winner of the site selection process.

Last month, Grinnell, Tiffin, Pella and Riverside were selected as finalists. Each city stands on equal ground, project director David Oman said, and a decision would be based on a four-part criterion, including acreage, ambiance, access and a $25 million local match.

The high points for Riverside, Oman said, were the ambiance of the site with its water features, the support of having the casino and accessibility to the University of Iowa and Kirkwood Community College.

"I could see the school take advantage of this," said Mike Roberts, the school board president, adding that he was still neutral towards the idea.

Some town leaders are excited by the idea but remain cautious.

"As mayor, I am overwhelmed with excitement and happiness that Riverside (is a finalist). In my mind, Riverside is the logical location for the project," Poch said.

Around town, some Riverside residents did not hold the same excitement.

"It's a nice idea in that it draws attention to the environment," said Paul Debbins, 40. "A facility that teaches people about the environment and education is good but not about a rain forest. Let's talk about what can be done in Iowa; that is more in tune with the ecosystem here."