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It's Time for More Than Promises


The Gazette

December 9, 2005

"Hold this project to the standards you would a new business."

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

    The Environmental Project wants Iowa communities other than Coralville to make a pitch for a $180 million rain forest.

    It’s time, though, for a two-way pitch. While communities put together proposals to lure one of the boldest projects ever in Iowa, Environmental Project leaders need to work on their pitch, too.

    No, not the ‘‘dream with us’’ concept that has sold so many state leaders on an indoor rain forest in Iowa. That pitch is almost seven years old, and most every community leader in Iowa has seen it. The pitch that needs to be honed now would have specifics like a real business plan, a real marketing plan and, most of all, a real fund-raising plan.

    All of those things have been asked for during the five years the project partnered with Coralville. And at times, documents presented as such plans have been produced. But they were shams, nothing that a for-profit business would get away with giving to its partners or its shareholders.

    Too much is being asked of cities, the state and the federal government — taxpayers at every level — for this project to go any further on a concept and fancy presentation. Even the most enthusiastic supporters of this project are growing weary of the lack of progress and the lack of specificity coming from executive director David Oman and others involved in the project.

    That said, we’re not giving up. We’re not giving up on the project, and we hold out some minimal hope that it might still land in Coralville. That is clearly the ideal location for it. While bigger cities — particularly those with gambling revenues like Des Moines and Dubuque — may have more wherewithal to contribute financially, none can match the pass-by traffic and visibility the project would have on Interstate 80 in Coralville.

    It’s tempting, given the frustrating lack of progress on The Environmental Project, to bid it good riddance. But no other idea being discussed in Iowa has anywhere near the potential as The Environmental Project. Based on the concepts that have been shared, this could be the state’s largest tourist destination, one of its finest educational facilities and a world-class research center.

    Iowa needs what the Environmental Project has promised. It doesn’t need what has been delivered so far — an embarrassing dose of national ridicule and squandered time, resources and goodwill.

    So get to work Des Moines and Dubuque. Get to work other communities, perhaps some right here in the Technology Corridor. See if an indoor rain forest might work in your community.

    But do your homework. Talk to Coralville about unanswered questions and unkept promises. Hold this project to the standards you would a new business. Make sure commitments back promises and insist on the transparency any public project should have.

    While that’s going on, get to work David Oman. There’s simply not enough information. Get it done, if it’s not done. Make it available if it is. Stop being a promoter and start being a project manager. That’s the only way this is going to get done, no matter where in Iowa the next stop is.