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Coralville: Rain Forest Looking For a New Place to Grow

Perry Beeman

Des Moines Register

December 8, 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.]

Backers of a massive rain forest-and-aquarium project in Iowa on Thursday told Coralville officials they will open negotiations with other Iowa towns.

Coralville officials almost immediately countered that they have no intention of getting into a bidding war for the project and will look for other uses for the proposed site along Interstate Highway 80 in case negotiations stall completely.

"City representatives said they believe they could reach agreement with all the points in the governor's letter through negotiations," the city said in a statement.

"City representatives also said they believe strongly in the project and believe the land along Interstate 80 is the best location in the state for the project, but they will not compete with other communities,” the statement said. “The city's negotiating team also indicated they will immediately explore all other development alternatives for the highly visible and easily accessed property."

Earlier, State Rep. David Jacoby, D-Coralville, who was in on a telephone meeting between the rain forest team and Coralville Thursday morning, said Coralville-area leaders still hope to land the $180 million project.

He said backers of the project told Coralville leaders that their town is still in the running, but they want to pursue overtures from other cities.

A rain forest official in Coralville declined comment. Rainforest chief David Oman was not immediately available.

Thursday's announcement opens the possibility that the project could move back to where it started — Des Moines — or to a new contender, such as Dubuque.

Coralville remains in the running, but the rain forest team led by Des Moines businessman Ted Townsend and former Gov. Robert Ray, has been unable to come to an agreement over the use of approximately 22 acres next to Interstate Highway 80 in Coralville.

That disagreement centers on whether the city would donate the land or lease it to the project.