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Towns Should Take It Slow With Rain Forest


Iowa City Press-Citizen

January 14, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Press-Citizen, 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 Iowa City Press-Citizen.]

In early December, the city of Coralville broke its longterm engagement with the $180 million indoor rain forest project. Both parties started to see other people. The city began to explore other options for developing its prime real estate south of Intersate 80; the project leaders began looking at other potential sites for their rain forest.

Soon after the breakup, David Oman, executive director of the rain forest project -- formally named The Environmental Project -- said he believed the project would pick a new site in four to six weeks. There were several possibilities, including Des Moines and Dubuque, from which to choose.

After weeks, however, the project appears to be still working through the site selection process ("Rain forest looking at sites," Jan. 13). The executive director for Dubuque's National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium said that the city wasn't "out of the discussion," but was unwilling to make a formal proposal.

The original six-week time frame for selecting a new site seems to be slipping away. Jim Angstman, vice president of land development for Regency Land Services, is putting together a proposal for a Tiffin site, and he thinks the time frame is now sometime in March.

It's tempting to criticize the Environmental Project for missing another deadline. The truth is, however, that its leaders were unrealistic when announcing they would have had a site selected by now. And, for everyone concerned, it would have been unwise to choose a new site so quickly.

Of course, what would really be unwise would be for any new site -- or for Coraville for that matter -- to make any agreement with the project without the information, specific timelines and other guarantees that Coralville was looking for in this relationship.

No matter what site we're talking about, make no mistake that the real issue here the project's inability to raise substantially more private money than it already has.

The prolonged search for a new site actually complicates that entire issue by throwing the project back into a planning stage. The details, including financial details, of the project when you take it out of Coralville become less clear. And how do you raise substantial private money for a project without details?