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Pella Seeks Rain Forest

Some Want Project Near Lake Red Rock

Brian Morelli

Iowa City Press-Citizen

May 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.]

Even on a quiet day, the sounds of tractor-trailers cannot be heard from Lake Red Rock.

The lake, located in Knoxville, just southwest of the Pella border, is the largest one in Iowa. DML Land Development plans to create a 250-acre, $700 million development off the lake's southeastern shore that would include hotels, retail, a water park, a marina and, some hope, an indoor rain forest.

Lake Red Rock/Pella is among four locations -- Tiffin, Grinnell and Riverside are the others -- vying to land the rain forest project, which also would feature an aquarium, wetlands and prairie land. A final selection is expected sometime between mid-May and early June.

"The strongest point, bar none, is the site. No other site has the ambiance of this place," said Kevin Conway, one of five leaders of DML. "We would keep the (tree) canopy. It would have the feel like this place has been here 100 years."

The selection of a site will be based on the ability to meet a four-part criterion, including ambiance, accessibility, acreage and a $25 million local match.

Accessibility is one concern because the site is about half an hour south of Interstate 80, Conway said.

Still, the tourist draw from the events throughout the year, such as the Tulip Time Festival and races at the Knoxville Raceway, is proof that people would make the drive to the area, Conway said.

"If you are trying to create an iconic destination, I don't believe you can do that on the interstate," city administrator Mike Nardini said.

City leaders are still negotiating with DML over how much they would help with money and infrastructure.

"The city is supportive of the developer's efforts," Nardini said. "In general, you'll find the community is supportive. And there would be some economic value to have (the project) here," he said.

Several people in the 3,500-person town of Pella, which also is the home to Central College, liked the idea of bringing such a project, but some had concerns about losing what makes Pella special.

Sarah Gyolai, 31, lives in Knoxville and works in Pella. She owns Horn's Ferry Hideaway, a cabin rental business. The tourist draw would help business, she said, but she had mixed feelings.

"It would be bittersweet," said Gyolai. "Pella is a great kept secret right now."

Alan Naaktgeboren, 63, has lived in Pella his whole life. He had some concerns about effects on taxes and traffic but likes the idea.

"It would be great for the community. It would be good for tourism, especially with all the other things going on with Lake Red Rock," he said.

Kathy Haug, 26, and husband Chris Haug, 30, said because the site is not in town, it is seen as separate and people haven't been vocal about the project.

"I'd be supportive if it came, but then I wouldn't be upset if it didn't come, either," Chris Haug said.