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Coralville's Requirements Are Prudent

Iowa City Press-Citizen

August 14, 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.]

The City of Coralville's plan to put some stringent requirements in place in exchange for selling 22 acres to the rain forest project for $1 is a smart one.

The agreement, which is a draft at this point (City ties strings to rain forest land," Aug. 10), requires the Environmental Project to submit detailed annual budgets to the city until the project opens. It also sets timeline and fund-raising requirements and stipulates that $50 million in federal funding already in hand for the project be used only in Coralville.

The requirements make sense because the land, southeast of Interstate 80 and First Avenue, is prime. The city has been an enthusiastic partner in this project -- which includes a 4.5-acre rain forest, a 1-million gallon aquarium and a venue for outdoor performing arts -- for years. But officials have to protect the city's interests.

The key, of course, is the additional $90 million or so the project needs to get to its $180 million in total cost. Since the federal government contributed $50 million about a year and a half ago, there has been little in the way of new money coming into the project.

The city obviously doesn't want the 22 acres to sit unused for years. If the rain forest project can't come up with the money to start, the city needs to move on to something else.

Under the draft agreement, a professional fund-raiser would need to be in place a month after the council approves the deal and the total needed to fund the project would need to be in place six months after the council approves.

Other recent news on the rain forest project is that the grandson of famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau has joined the board overseeing the project.

There is certainly value in the name recognition 25-year-old Philippe Cousteau brings to the project. Whether that helps translate to more fund-raising success remains to be seen.

Cousteau said he has not discussed a financial role in the project, that he sees his role as making it appeal to younger people and also in promoting an environmentally healthy lifestyle.

"The environmental movement, in various forms, has been around more than 100 years, and we are still destroying the world that sustains us."