Return to Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site

Return to Nicholas Johnson's Coralville Rain Forest Web Site

Rain Forest/Earthpark Pessimism

Keith Aldrich

Town Crier, Pella, Iowa

May 18, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Town Crier, 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 Town Crier.]

Many projects are sold on the basis of a resulting increase in tourism that will contribute to the local economy, but oftentimes have the reverse effect due to insufficient project revenues to cover the ongoing expenses of maintenance, salaries, promotion, etc.

As evidence, I offer the present problems with financing the Botanical Center in Des Moines, which lost $250,000 last year, according to the Des Moines Register. The same can be said of Biosphere 2 near Tucson, Arizona, built to be a self-sustaining environment, which may be closed due to insufficient operating income. The problem, of course, is that these long-term losses, should they occur, may fall upon the taxpayer, you and me, not the developer who is promoting this as part of his lakeside development idea.

In addition, the letter to the editor received from Brad and Jennifer Franzwa of Coralville adds to my concerns. It reads as follows:

To: Ms. Eischen (Pella Chamber Director),

Prior to you publicly declaring any rain forest as being an economic boost to the region, I believe you should take the time, exert due diligence, and read about some of the challenges with the project that Mr. Omen will fail to inform you of.

Nicholas Johnson is a law professor at the University of Iowa. He has spent two years following, analyzing, and writing on the project. If there are high points or low points of the project, they have all been covered in his website:

I hope that you will take the time and at least review the website. I’m sure you will be surprised at how well Mr. Johnson has done with analyzing the project. Please remember to ask yourself why this project has failed in so many areas already. If you simply read the website, you will know exactly what questions need to be asked of Mr. Omen before you put your time or resources into the project. We in the Iowa City/Coralville area are pleased that the project is going away but are concerned that it could become a financial drain for Pella instead or even the State of Iowa. We travel to Pella about six times a year to golf at Bos Landen, stay overnight, and always bike the next day around the lake. We are your tourists. We want the best for Pella and feel that this project will bankrupt you if you let it. We don’t believe the project can remain sustainable throughout the years.

Thank you,

Brad and Jennifer Franzwa, 1590 Mink Circle, North Liberty, IA 52317 Phone 319-353-6689

After contacting the Franzwas to let them know this was going on our website,, he responded:
You’re welcome. I’m getting a bit tired of Mr. Omen spending tax money without answering any questions. When all else fails, he simply picks up and moves onto the next community. As former Mayor Lee Clancy of Cedar Rapids said years ago to Coralville, “This project will truly test your patience…” --Brad
The request for twenty-five million from this area is less of a concern, as those who might give support will know up front that their gift will be just that – a gift in support of the rain forest project.

Even so, it would be an asset to the area until the new wore off, and even after, a source of pride to Pella and Marion County. I cannot say that this project should not be considered, but that we must consider the negatives as well as the positives, for certainly there will be additional costs for roads, police and fire projection, county oversight, etc.

Pessimistic thoughts. But let’s ask, “Who will benefit most from a rain forest?” The developer perhaps?

In Pella, Tulip Time has been around for over 70 years, but a high percentage of Des Moines residents have never visited our festival. (If you ever work, or have worked, the Pella Tourism Booth at the Iowa State Fair, you will hear visitors state that they’ve never been to Tulip Time.)

Consider your own tourist habits: have you been to the nearby Des Moines Botanical Center? If yes, how often? Do you plan on visiting again soon – or did once do it for you? What about the Neil Smith Prairie near Prairie City? Have you been there?

To survive, a project like this would demand continual visits from our population in addition to those less frequent visitors from a distance. Just because the rain forest is there will not demand a visit.

So I am a pessimist. Of course, I was also somewhat opposed to the Highway 163 bypass, thinking it would decrease tourism. I was wrong. I might be again.

For additional information, log onto and click on attractions/rainforest and earthpark/environmental project.