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Riverside, Tiffin Show Interest in Rain Forest

Dubuque and Des Moines Also Are Considering the $180 Million Facility

Perry Beeman

Des Moines Register

December 10, 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.]

Two more Iowa towns, Riverside and Tiffin, have announced they are trying to land a $180 million indoor rain forest complex once eyed for Coralville.

Dubuque and Des Moines officials also are studying the project, which has been in the works for about a decade and still doesn't have a home. Rain forest backers claim they have had other overtures, but won't disclose them.

The Iowa Environmental Project would include a three- to four-acre enclosed rain forest, a million-gallon aquarium, an education center and prairie plantings.

The Riverside site would be across the street from a casino now under construction, a development that includes a new hotel. The site includes a quarry and a lake.

Rain forest backers found that interesting because the Eden Project in Cornwall, England, which has served as something of a model for the Iowa project, was built in a former strip mine, said Glenn Patton, who works for Prudential Partners Real Estate in Coralville and also represents the casino project.

That would lead visitors to focus on the environmental attraction without the distraction of road noise or views of passing trucks or utility lines, for example, Patton said.

Now that Des Moines businessman Ted Townsend's team has decided to entertain offers outside Coralville, Riverside will aggressively court the project, Patton said. The Riverside group plans to offer perhaps $10 million in casino profits and is willing to work toward securing a $10 million state grant that would match that.

"We think this would be a huge boon to Washington County's economic development program," Patton said.

Regency Homes and High Development Corp. are jointly pitching a 202-acre site at the Tiffin exit on Interstate Highway 80, near the interchange with Interstate Highway 380.

Company vice president Jim Angstman said the heavily wooded spot offers easy interstate access but also would give the secluded feeling that rain forest backers want.

Angstman said his company would consider working with Tiffin to seek a state grant for the project.