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C'ville Seeks Attractor

Jennifer Lickteig

The Daily Iowan

April 7, 2006

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

With the Environmental Project's indoor rain forest dropped from the Coralville to-do list, many are left to ponder what will occupy the vacant space.

City officials are looking for an answer, and they want UI students to help.

Joshua Schamberger, the president of Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitor's Bureau, proposed that the Coralville City Council form a steering committee to create a proposal for potential developers.

The group, made of residents and leaders from surrounding communities and the university, would paint a picture of the area's atmosphere and entice attractions to locate in Coralville, near the Interstate 80 and First Avenue interchange.

"Coralville needs an 'attractor,' not an attraction," Schamberger said. "The difference between a rain forest and your average attraction is the potential to be something amazing."

The indoor rain forest was originally set for construction in the Coralville Iowa River Landing District; the projects developers said the facility would bring millions of visitors to the area.

"If those million visitors ever came, it would've been great in many ways," Coralville City Councilor John Lundell said. "But it would've created problems in other ways."

He cited traffic difficulties as the main reason he's not so disappointed about losing the potential tourists.

As for the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Coralville Mayor Jim Fausett said he predicts the rooms will still be filled, just not by jungle-seeking tourists. The hotel, set to open in August, already has several conferences booked.

Regardless of the new use, Lundell said the land was originally changed to create a more attractive first impression of Coralville.

"Redevelopment of the area was planned long before anybody even dreamt of the rain forest," Lundell said.

But this decision to leave the rain forest out of plans for the site was long after Coralville had spent $17 million to purchase the land and put up the infrastructure for the hotel.

The purchased land included Katie Bachmeier's business, Bachmeier Interiors. After finishing a $90,000 remodeling job on her former building, she moved to the current location at 3402 Merchant St. in September 2004. The new establishment cost close to $1 million.

Though the city's compensation didn't cover her moving costs, she doesn't hold any grudges against the council.

"I believe we were the only ones in favor of moving," she said. "That's just part of the procedure. It was OK that it was happening."

Wayne Grell, the former owner of the Dolls club in the affected area, said he originally tolerated selling his land to the city and moving out. But that sentiment dwindled later when he filed a lawsuit against the city in February 2005, saying it had infringed on his constitutional rights by rezoning the land where the club was set to move.

A federal judge threw out the lawsuit in March, but Grell said he's waiting for advice from a Florida attorney on whether to appeal the decision.

He thinks Coralville never meant to have the rain forest built.

"I think it just used that to get the rest of the industrial park to move," he said. "[The city's] intent was never to have it."