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Rain Forest Needs a Deadline

Des Moines Register
November 11, 2005

 [Note: This material is copyright by the Des Moines Register, 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 Des Moines Register.]

Des Moines businessman Ted Townsend is enchanted with a vision of creating a magnificent indoor rain forest that would be both a learning center and an international visitor attraction.

Townsend has pledged millions of his own money to the project. He hired world-class scientific consultants and architects. He can point to the success of the Eden Project, a similar undertaking in Cornwall, England.

The problem is that not enough other people have caught Townsend's enthusiasm at least not enough with the wealth and the willingness to donate the money to make the $180 million project a reality. To date, the biggest financial backer has been the U.S. government, through the work of U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley two years ago in securing a $50 million grant.

The city of Coralville, proposed site of the rain forest, has grown impatient with the slow pace, and so has Grassley. The senator has arranged for the $50 million grant to be rescinded unless the project's backers match the grant with other fundraising within two years.

That's a generous timetable. The project represents the kind of outside-the-box thinking Iowa needs more of, and it could be a visible symbol of a statewide Iowa commitment to the biological sciences, one of the keys to the state's economic future. But unless it can attract sufficient donor support to make it happen soon, it will be time, regrettably, to pull the plug.