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Decision on Coralville Rain Forest Site Nears

Erin Jordan and Perry Beeman

Des Moines Register

December 7, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by the Des Moines Register, 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 Des Moines Register.]

Whether an indoor rain forest will be built in Coralville may be decided Thursday.

Coralville officials and organizers of the Environmental Project will meet Thursday morning in Iowa City to discuss whether the $180 million project will continue in Coralville or move to another Iowa city, officials said.

"There are some major points that will make or break it," said Coralville City Council member Tom Gill. "We're a long ways apart."

Organizers of the project, which would include an aquarium and large-format theater, had given the city until Dec. 2 to confirm that it could provide at least 25 acres of land near - but not too near - Interstate Highway 80 and raise $40 million for the project.

The groups agreed to talk Thursday in a meeting that is closed to the public, even though the project's primary financing thus far comes from a $50 million federal grant.

If Coralville and project backers can't make a deal, Dubuque and Des Moines are interested in talking about the rain forest, said David Oman, chief administrator for the project. "The board's charge is to clarify and resolve matters with Coralville," Oman said Tuesday. "We're not negotiating with anyone else."

Dubuque had eyed the project for its redeveloping riverfront, which is home to a major Mississippi River museum. In Des Moines, which spurned an earlier version of the project, talk over the last month or so revolved around the possibility of moving Blank Park Zoo to a new location where the rain forest also could be located, possibly across the Des Moines River from Principal Park, home of the Iowa Cubs baseball team.

Oman said he got an offer of land recently from another Iowa city, which he declined to name.

The project has until December 2007 to match its federal grant with private donations, or it will lose the federal money. Oman said the project's board plans to match the $50 million in a year, but offered no new information on financing. Organizers say the project could be built by spring 2009.