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Coralville rain forest still short

Emily Derrico

The Daily Iowan

March 31, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by The Daily Iowan, 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 Daily Iowan.]

Talk about when Coralville's indoor rain forest will break ground is circulating as fundraising remains stalled, leaving city councilors wondering if the $90 million still needed to build the project will ever be found.

Councilor John Lundell said he still supports the environmental project but has concerns about funding.

"It's not an easy project; it's unique," he said. "I hope they will raise enough funds, but I wouldn't bet the farm, because it comes down to resources."

David Oman, the executive director of the Iowa Environmental Project, said he is employing all of his fundraising efforts to secure more money.

"We are in discussions with several corporations, foundations, and individuals, most of them outside of Iowa, for the remaining dollars to finance the full project," he said.

Under the current proposal, the $180 million environmental project is aimed at educating the public about living in harmony with nature, and it is expected to include a 4.5 acre indoor tropical rain forest and a 1 million gallon aquarium.

The bulk of the $90 million already raised comes from a $50 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Another $10 million came from Des Moines businessman Ted Townsend, who is also a key financier for the project Great Ape Trust of Iowa, currently under construction in Des Moines.

Since those crucial funds were promised last year, fundraising has lagged, and councilors said they have not been provided with updates.

"It's been quite some time since an update from them; it's been several months," said Coralville Mayor Jim Fausett. "But every council member is 100 percent behind the project."

Oman said he expects "groundbreaking of some sort" to happen this year, though a clear timetable doesn't exist.

Coralville's long-awaited Marriott Hotel and Convention Center is expected to break ground within the next few weeks adjacent to the rain forest's site, near the Interstate 80-First Avenue interchange.

"For the area to reach its potential, we need the environmental project to get started so that we can attract new businesses and encourage development," Fausett said.

Despite the setbacks, councilors maintain hope that a rain forest will come to Coralville.

"Why not Coralville?" Lundell said. "It has a history of taking on large projects and pulling them off."