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Civic Skinny: Rainforest Back in Des Moines?

People Are Talking, But Odds Are Against It

Central Iowa's Alternative

November 24, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by Cityview, 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 Cityview.]

According to a top philanthropist/ business type and another top government source, Downtown Des Moines could try to swing for the fences with regard to the Rain Forest project. Here's what we know: First, federal legislation mandating that the Rain Forest project be built in Johnson County (essentially on the Coralville site, which the city is now backing away from) is due to change to include all of Iowa. Second, Sen. Charles Grassley has "no intention of getting egg on his face" with regard to this project after taking so much heat, and is reaching out more than ever before to make it happen. Third, after hinting around to a few business types that the project may be interested in trying to make it work in Des Moines (as originally planned) and getting rejected, we're hearing that a number of Des Moines players who once wrote Ted Townsend off as "crazy" are starting to come around. Described as a "long shot," but also a "sure-fire way to make Des Moines a destination," a plan is being quietly discussed regarding a scaled-down version of the Rain Forest project (but likely without David Oman involved) that is across the river from the new Science Center of Iowa. Also in the mix, we're told, would be the zoo. The idea, our business insider told us, is to have these attractions feed off of one another and create a tourist attraction that would rival Omaha. "Des Moines would be the destination it has always wanted to be," our source said, adding that the zoo is hoping to go through some ambitious changes, has a list of heavy hitters backing it up and many aren't sure if a South Side expansion is the best idea. Just one problem: hundreds of millions of dollars. "You guys have been hard on the project, and so has just about everyone else, but that's just because people have trouble getting their arms around it," our source said. Good reason for that, another community leader answered: "Because it won't ever happen. Dress it up any way you want, there will never be support for the Rain Forest project in this town. The only way it could happen is if Townsend decides to foot the bill himself."