Editorial: River project demonstrates area's energy
Iowa City Press-Citizen
Monday, May 24, 2004
The energy that drives our
metro area's growth became evident last week. On Thursday, Coralville officials
tied together several previously announced projects as the "Iowa River
Landing Development," which beginning this summer will transform the city's
shoreline from Interstate 80 south.
• Construction of the Iowa River Landing Development begins this summer.
• If successful, the project will transform not only the waterfront but the metro area.
Coralville's Iowa River Landing Development consists of 150 acres stretching from I-80 to the Iowa River Power Co. restaurant, bounded by First Avenue on one side and the river on the other. Its main components include:
• Marriott Hotel and Conference Center - The nine-story tower will include meeting and exhibition space, a restaurant and 300-plus rooms.
• Iowa Environmental/Education Project - Designed by a former Harvard art teacher, the facility largely will use alternative energies to grow an indoor rain forest and will feature a reconstructed wetland and prairie on what formerly was a brownfield.
• Coralville Intermodal Facility - Featuring a gazebo, the center will celebrate the history of Coralville and the Iowa River.
• Open space - A full third of the redevelopment will be open space with public trails and parks. One of the trails will bridge the river, connecting to Iowa City's system.
Construction centering on utilities and roads begins this summer. The Iowa Environmental/ Education Project will hold a symbolic groundbreaking in autumn. If completed by the projected date of Earth Day 2008 - when the Iowa Environmental/Education Project hopes to open - the entire riverfront, the nearby I-80 ramps and First Avenue will look quite different than today.
There has been much criticism of each component in the development plan, ranging from the tax structures supporting the new conference center to the ethical implications of creating an indoor rain forest. And there remain a number of questions, many of them about basic finances, regarding the Iowa Environmental/Education Project.
While many questions have been asked about what happens if the components fail, the community also might want to ask what will happen if they succeed. Will other attractions - a casino quickly comes to mind - soon be proposed for the area?
In any case, that Coralville
is taking on such a project is remarkable. A riverfront redevelopment of
this scale usually is done only in much larger cities. In Iowa, Dubuque
has and now Des Moines is making such an effort. Other communities have
not been so visionary - Cedar Rapids' voters recently nixed a waterfront
redevelopment plan there and Sioux City is grappling with how to fill its
downtown, where nearly 70 percent of floor space sits vacant. Should Coralville's
river develop-ment be as successful as its proponents predict, not only
that city but much of the metro area will be transformed. We'll no longer
be a fly-over or drive-by region but a destination for a nation.