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Rainforest Project Requires Focus

Nicholas Johnson

Dubuque Telegraph Herald

December 15, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 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 Dubuque Telegraph Herald.]

The rain forest editorial ("Iowa rainforest: Boon or boondoggle?", Dec. 4) struck commendable balance between openness and skepticism.

A proposed project that is the subject of national ridicule and the product of campaign contributions, lobbying and federal "pork" still is entitled to evaluation.

But enthusiasts' "wow!" is no substitute for realistic business plans, no justification for emphasizing benefits while ignoring costs and risks.

Dubuque has done attractions right. Want a review? Click on the Telegraph Herald Online's "Discover Dubuque" and "Attractions." Most are solidly grounded in Dubuque's history and natural setting; realistic in scope and financing. Their synergy adds sparkle to this Iowa gem of a city.

For two years, I've Web-posted a substantial collection of rain forest facts and opinion at What issues have emerged?

Three "F's" for focus, funding and feasibility.

* Nine years into this project, promoters keep shifting its design, content, mission and name. Tourist attraction? Scientific research? Teacher training?

* Two years, even with Sen. Chuck Grassley's $50 million, promoters can't find another dime of the $180 million.

* If tourist attraction, few believe it can attract the necessary million or more visitors year after year.

Without focus, there can't be a business plan. Without a business plan, it's impossible to evaluate the feasibility of any project's projected revenue stream.

I've made such facts as exist available online, as have others. It's Dubuque's decision. Let's make sure it's a well-informed one.