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Rain Forest Hires Rain Man

A Commentary on Rain Forest Project's Negotiation with KUD

Nicholas Johnson

June 23, 2005

On June 23, 2005, local papers carried stories that the rain forest promoters, and presumably their board, are in negotiations with KUD International, (for "Kajima Urban Development"; it is a subsidiary of Kajima USA,, in the person of John Best, to take over some of the responsibilities for design, engineering and construction of the rain forest project. Zack Kucharski, "Rain Forest Enlists Experts; Firm Experienced with Attractions Using Habitats Expected to Boost Fundraising for Coralville Project," The Gazette, June 23, 2005; Adam Pracht, "Rain Forest Project Set to Hire Overseer; Officials: KUD Could Help Bring in Funding," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 23, 2005. (The Iowa Pork Forest blog site [] was not impressed: "Amateur Hour," Iowa Pork Forest, June 23, 2005.)

This seems to be at least a partial acknowledgment by rain forest promoters that their difficulty in raising the additional $90 million has something to do with their lack of focus, plans, and budgets. (Whatever the reason, so far as public disclosures have revealed, there has not been one additional dime raised during the past year.)

Because no contract terms between KUD and the project have yet been drafted (as of June 23), let alone agreed to, informed commentary is difficult to impossible at this time. However, the following can be said (or asked).

It is not clear how the presence of KUD assists with most of the problems that have dogged this project from its inception:

Based on what is presented on their Web sites, KUD and Kajima USA seem to have gained sufficient respect from some of America's largest corporations to have been involved in dozens of projects involving the construction of manufacturing plants, warehouses and office buildings. This is the good news. Clearly they are in a position to bring much more than the principles of "Management 101" to the rain forest project. In short, they will presumably demand answers to the same questions I have been asking over the course of the last four years.

They represent that they have a record of bringing in projects on time and on budget. Given the continual slippage in the rain forest's timeline this is also good news.

While the overwhelming proportion of the projects they've managed are business buildings for corporations, KUD's site refers to three aquarium projects it has assisted with that bear some similarity to the rain forest project: the Florida Aquarium, the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, and Biota! ("the aquarium at Silvertown Quays") -- budgeted at $20 million (public funds), $118 million and $200 million (charity funding) respectively.

While it seems a little unusual that, after thinking about it for nine years, the rain forest promoters need to bring in outside consultants to tell them what kind of programs to put inside the shell of the rain forest, it's clearly an improvement over the focus drift of the last four years. (As I said in the context of the Iowa City Community School District's refusal to address the kind of educational methodology and space utilization it wished to use inside its new $40 million worth of school buildings before asking for architectural plans, "Normally you know before you talk to the architect whether you want to build a courthouse or an outhouse.")

It remains to be seen whether a group of consultants as well organized and disciplined as KUD appears to be will be able to work with the rain forest promoters or not. Indeed, at this point in time it's not even known whether a mutually acceptable agreement can be hammered out and embodied in a contract or not.