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The Iowa City Press-Citizen's "Iowa Child" Three-Part Series . . .

Note: On Saturday, March 20, 2004, the Iowa City Press-Citizen announced that it was launching a three-part series about the "Iowa Child/Environmental-Education Project" to be followed by a public forum the following Monday evening. The stories are, of course, copyright  by the Press-Citizen, and are posted here as a fair use display, for educational purposes only. (It is also already made freely available to the public on the newspaper's Web site.) For subscription information go to

At the Web site you're looking at now the relevant material from each day's paper is presented on a separate page. For each, click on March 20, March 21 and March 22.

This page contains the paper's March 23rd coverage of the forum it sponsored Monday evening, March 22.

Sidebar material is blocked and indented on this Web page to set it apart.

A summary "table of contents" set of links is provided here to ease searching the many separate pieces and sidebars presented by the paper in this issue.

Contents of Story in March 23rd Paper

Rebecca Schultze and Brian Sharp, "Rain Forest Spells $85M"

Newly Released Budget Chart

Project [Economic] Projections

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Rain forest spells $85M

Johnson County economy would benefit with 1,400 new jobs

By Rebecca Schultze and Brian Sharp
Iowa City Press-Citizen

CORALVILLE - While generating $85 million in annual spending for Johnson County, a proposed rain forest and education project also could help create 1,400 new jobs, officials said Monday.

[photo] Sergio Modigliani, of Chermayeff, Sollogub & Pool Inc., speaks about energy conservation and the Iowa Environmental/Education Project on Monday at a forum at Northwest Junior High in Coralville.
Press-Citizen/Zach Boyden-Holmes
 Statewide, the projected economic impact rises to nearly $187 million.

"If this happens, and I believe it will, this could be the biggest thing that happens to our state" former Gov. Robert Ray told more than 200 people at a Press-Citizen sponsored forum at Northwest Junior High.

The Iowa Environmental/Education Project proposes a 4.5-acre enclosed rain forest, a 1 million-gallon aquarium, educational galleries and 10 acres of re-created wetland and Iowa prairie, among other features.

The $180 million development largely would be housed in a translucent, domed structure rising 18 stories and stretching three football fields in length southeast of Interstate 80 and First Avenue.

A panel of project officials and consultants spent more than an hour presenting and discussing the concept Monday night, but it remains a vision with $90 million yet to be raised for construction and many details yet to be determined.

"We are still looking for some very definite answers that are not being provided, or are being skipped over," Coralville resident Gary Mohr told the panel, explaining later he is not being critical but curious. "I've heard a lot of, 'We hope. We feel. We believe.' But it's still Coralville that is left holding the bag (if the project fails)."

Previous coverage
  • Click here to view the project’s latest budget projections.
  • Creating a rain forest from the ground up
  • Money matters: Making a rain forest pay for itself
  • Creating power, building dreams
Massachusetts-based ConsultEcon's economic forecast is up from a $120 million impact shown in past project reports, a difference officials explained as a mathematical error in the earlier estimate. Earlier calculations mistakenly removed all spending by local residents, financial consultant Jon Muller said, instead of removing what they likely would have paid out for daily needs and leaving in so-called tourism dollars.

In Johnson County, tourist spending climbed $51 million over the past five years, to reach $199 million. Josh Schamberger, executive director of the Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the 3,170 tourism-supported jobs pay an average $7.50 a hour, compared to Iowa's minimum wage of $5.15 a hour.

The Iowa Environmental/Education Project will create 2,900 "ripple effect" jobs statewide: 1,400 full- and part-time in Johnson County.

"While it's not the most high paying job or industry in the community, I don't think that should short change it by any means," Schamberger said. "There are certainly people in the community for whom that's a good job. There are all sorts of students who are working in hotels at the front desk. That's a good part-time job."

Monday night, the panel spent about an hour fielding residents' questions, which ranged from financing to structural details and the environment, attendance to revenue projections and opportunities to get involved. Much of the panel presentation focused on educational and research opportunities.

Panelists discussed teaming up with schools across Iowa, linking curriculum with "real life experience," using Web cams to allow students to monitor plant growth and animal behavior, allowing students, teachers and scientists to work side by side in a "living lab" - exploring plant genetics, water filtration systems and biotechnology.

Project projections
  • 500 construction jobs.
  • 300 permanent jobs (avg. salary $31,000).
  • 2,500 “ripple effect” jobs in Johnson and Linn counties.
  • $186.7 million statewide economic impact ($84.9 million in Johnson County).
  • 1.1 million to 1.5 million visitors, translating to 3,000 to 4,100 every day.
From research about greenhouse gases to agriculture, the rain forest project can help scientists find answers, which then can be shared on a global scale, said panelist Scott Carpenter, associate director for the Global and Regional Environmental Research Center at the University of Iowa.

David Oman, the project's chief administrator, said the design team will re-establish an office in Coralville within 30 days and continue to push for a late fall groundbreaking. Earth Day 2008 is the target opening date. The local office closed in November 2002 as the project's future appeared bleak, only to be resurrected with a $50 million federal grant in January.

"Some people say, 'Well, that money should be used for something I think is more important,'" Ray said. "Well, it's not available for that. It's available for this."

As for Mohr's question, City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said the city's $20 million commitment will be offset by property taxes paid on Coral Ridge Mall and captured by a special tax district. Oman said the design team has been "methodical" in making certain projections are conservative and solid.

When it comes to "holding the bag," City Council member Henry Herwig said after the forum:

"We don't know what the bag is yet." One of the major factors, he said, is the plan to build and open the project debt free.