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Developments Bode Well for Rain Forest


Iowa City Press-Citizen

July 10, 2005

[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.]

Recent developments with the proposed Coralville rain forest finally bring some accountability to the largely public-funded project.

On Wednesday, The Environmental Project's leaders set Oct. 31, 2006, as a benchmark date for the rain forest. If fund-raising goals for the proposal are met by then, construction will begin soon after and will be completed by May 1, 2009. The guarantee comes with the signing of a $5.5 million contract between project organizers and Japan-based KUD International, which has handled similar projects.

Nearly 18 months after Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, garnered a $50 million federal grant for the project, little has come of it other than delayed groundbreakings and local advisory group meetings. Meanwhile, Coralville holds prime, unoccupied real estate for the rain forest while project organizers announce they'd also like millions in state dollars to build the research, educational and tourist facility.

After receiving federal money and Coralville's promise of land, hiring what amounts to a general contractor marks the next logical step in a project of this magnitude. One wonders why it wasn't done earlier. The expertise of KUD or of similar companies is needed not only to raise money from large corporations but also to coordinate construction's diverse aspects. Finding someone who already has built large-scale aquariums, botanical gardens or other buildings that draw tens of thousands of people was necessary in a state largely bereft of such attractions. The project's move, albeit late, certainly raises the confidence level of those wary of, but not entirely opposed to, the project.

The deadline also is comforting. If the goal isn't met, it's a solid sign that there's little chance of the project coming to fruition anytime soon. Die-hard supporters can always argue that KUD failed to perform, but given that company's reputation -- it has overseen the successful Long Beach (Calif.) Aquarium of the Pacific and San Francisco's Pacific Bell Park baseball stadium -- such criticism merely will sound like the whining of children who can't get what they want.

KUD's agreement to even take on the project also should be a confidence builder. If the company didn't believe the dollars could be raised or the project built, it wouldn't waste its time when other, theoretically more profitable projects could be undertaken. The clause that costs KUD $500,000 for each month the project is behind schedule gives the company little margin for profit should it fail. And while building the rain forest is a whole different matter from ensuring it stays open, KUD isn't likely to take on a project that ultimately appears doomed to fail. The company wants to boast to future clients that past projects not only were built on time but that they also are succeeding.

With these developments, the heat is actually on now. By Christmas of next year, project organizers finally should be able to say they will build -- or they should finally give up on the idea and let Coralville get on with developing its entry point. It's simply the right thing to do by the public.