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Area Funds Found for Earthpark

John Butters and Ray Weikal

Lone Tree Reporter Online

June 1, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by John Butters, Ray Weikal and the Lone Tree Reporter Online, 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 copyright owners.]

Riverside has raised the requisite $25 million for landing the "Earthpark" project, according to Glenn Patton, a local realtor and developer who has led the effort to land the $180 million project.

The money will come from a mix of private and public contributions, he said.

"We have made a contribution to the Earthpark for an amount of money exceeding $25 million. In addition to the money, we are offering 100 acres of land," Patton said. "We feel we have made a tremendously exciting offer."

In addition to Riverside, there are three communities currently under consideration for the environmental project: Pella, Grinnell and Tiffin. Earthpark officials have said that they will announce a decision in early June, based on the project's criteria and a local commitment of $25 million.

It has been reported that another community has also raised the necessary money, but Earthpark officials have declined to confirm or deny the information.

The project is now tagged as "Earthpark," project officials announced during a press conference last week.

The name of the project has undergone several name changes. Most recently, it has been called "The Environmental Project," but is commonly known as "the rainforest."

Siemens of Germany has been lined up for financial and technical support, Earthpark leaders also announced.
Siemens, one of the world's largest technology and engineering companies, will provide Earthpark with products, services and design input and will help create and support learning programs for those visiting the facility. Specific plans and technologies will be announced at a later date. Construction of Earthpark will begin in 2007. It is slated to open during the 2009 - 2010 school year.

"This is an exciting concept that has proven its global relevance and value in the U.K.," said Ken Cornelius, head of Siemens One, Inc., the sales organization for Siemens USA. "This is the time for a substantial, provocative environmental learning center in the United States."

Current and future Siemens technologies such as fuel cells, geo-thermal and water treatment equipment, advanced lighting, communications, fire, life safety and security systems, among others, will be embedded and displayed inside Earthpark. Other companies involved with planning the project include KUD International of Los Angeles, Weitz of Des Moines and Turner Construction of Atlanta.

In the past, some project critics cited the lack of outside financial support for skepticism that the facility would ever be built.

Earthpark's mission is to "inspire generations to learn from the natural world." Visitors will have an immersive experience in nature that will stimulate a deeper interest in science and education, and that knowledge in turn, can be used to help restore the natural world, according to a project press release.

"Creation of what will be one of America's largest environmental learning centers will help millions learn, through onsite visits and online activities crucial to humanity's timeless connections with nature, and changes necessary for future survival," the release reads.
The museum will include a re-created tropical rain forest and a one-million-gallon aquarium, large format and mixed media theater, interactive galleries on the indigenous Iowa prairie, geology and food production for the world, and recreations of tall grass Iowa prairie, wetlands, outdoor trails, gardens and crops.

The project could be completed as soon as 2009, according to administrator David Oman.

Since the first of the year, 16 cities and towns throughout Iowa, some with multiple site offerings, expressed interest in becoming the future home of Earthpark. Seven communities submitted formal proposals resulting in on-site visits to each and interviews by the selection team.

A group of business leaders threw Riverside's name into the site selection hat following a much publicized breakup in late 2005 between officials representing the project and the city of Coralville, which was slated to host the museum.

Criteria that will help determine the final selection include market potential, proximity to educational institutions, highway access, local funding commitments, and the nature and timeliness of surrounding development.
Earthpark's board of directors is scheduled to meet in June and a decision is expected at that time.