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Council right to expect some results


Iowa City Press-Citizen

March 17, 2005

The moment is rapidly nearing when rain forest leaders will need to show us the money -- and "us" means the entire metro area community.

Succeed or fail, the proposed rain forest, now known as the Iowa Environmental Project, will make a significant impact on this region. If it flourishes, the metro area will see literally hundreds of thousands of new visitors annually, open opportunities for hotels, eating establishments, retailers and bring proposals for other big-name tourist attractions. If it lives up to its backers' claims of developing and testing environment-friendly technology, a whole new segment of the economy could develop here.

If it fails after being built, of course, Coralville is left with a behemoth of a shell, taking up several acres of prime real estate. It becomes a symbol of pipe dreams and high pork that shames the entire metro area -- and it'll be right alongside the freeway for everyone to see.

Some Coralville councilors, concerned over groundbreaking delays and lack of meetings with Iowa Environmental Project leaders, wisely want the two parties to get together. Councilman John Lundell specifically would like a clear timeline with benchmarks of tangible results. Should project leaders start missing marks, the city can consider its options. That may include parting ways with project leaders.

Lundell's plan is sound. Coralville has pledged $10 million of land and infrastructure improvements to the rain forest. It's also footed the bill in court cases to garner the property where the rain forest and aquarium complex would be located. It's overseen the cleanup of brownfields in the old industrial park.

That city councilors put off requiring a timeline -- which Councilman Tom Gill requested four months ago -- certainly was understandable. While giving project leaders more time to search for sponsors and dollars, councilors needed to focus on the next step of their city rejuvenation project, the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. A successful hotel/conference center in turn will trigger other development at the old industrial park.

With groundbreaking on the hotel/conference center only weeks away, though, the time is coming for Coralville officials to ensure the industrial park gets back on the tax rolls while serving as an attractive entry point to the city. That could in-volve the Iowa Educational Project. But it doesn't have to.

Slipping schedules often occur on projects of this magnitude. Coralville will have to give the Io-wa Environmental Project some leeway.

But the Iowa Environmental Project also needs to soon start showing Coralville some results.