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Questions Left Unanswered


Corridor Business Journal

December 19, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by the Corridor Business Journal 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 Corridor Business Journal.]

People living in larger cities think they can impose their will on those living in smaller communities. That might be part of the problem with the relationship between Coralville and the leadership of the Environmental Project.

Project President David Oman and his team, however, must be stuck in the past thinking that Coralville is a small town that can be easily manipulated. Why else would they treat the city and its leaders with such lack of respect?

In the early 1980s when Mr. Oman was chief of staff to governors Robert Ray and Terry Branstad, the population of Coralville was approximately 7,700 people. The town was a small bedroom community overshadowed by its larger neighbor, Iowa City.

Today, Coralville is a booming community of more than 17,000, a player not only in the Corridor, but also the entire state.

The citizens of Coralville should feel proud of their leaders and their cautious approach to the rain forest project. City Administrator Kelly Hayworth and the city’s elected leaders have a responsibility to ensure that the best interest of the city is kept in mind at all times. It is clear that this was the case as they tried to deal with the rain forest project officials.

There is no question that the rain forest project is a bold idea and would make a nice complement to the Marriot Hotel and Convention Center in what is being developed as Coralville Iowa River Landing District. But before any self-respecting elected official is going to wholly embrace such a project, he or she rightfully deserves to have many questions answered. This simple, albeit important step did not happen.

Which city in Iowa wants to get stuck with an ill-conceived money pit?

As Josh Schamberger, president of the Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau, said recently, “The (rain forest) leadership speaks regularly about ‘the next phase,’ but to date there are no defined goals or strategies, no blueprints; nothing more substantive that we have seen than a really good PowerPoint presentation and visioning brochure.”

Mr. Ray, who chairs the project’s board, and Mr. Oman, wanted a seemingly unconditional letter of support for the project by each of the elected officials, more land and a guarantee that the city will help raise $40 million. Without answers to the city’s questions and a well-thought out plan, who would rightfully agree to such terms?

It was as if Mr. Ray and Mr. Oman were saying, “How dare you question us and the rain forest project.”

It is questionable now whether or not the project will ever be built—even with several other communities scrambling to land the project—but regardless of where it may land, it is doubtful that it will be successful with the continued cavalier attitude of project officials.