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Rain Forest Timeline

Iowa City Press-Citizen

Iowa City Press-Citizen

December 9, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by the Press-Citizen, 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 Iowa City Press-Citizen.]

It's been almost exactly five years since the Iowa Child Institute board voted to build the rain forest in Coralville. Now, while not ruling out a Coralville rain forest, project leaders say they will look at other locations for the project and city leaders say they will look at other development options for the prime land south of Interstate 80 and east of First Avenue.

February 1999: After Des Moines rejects his project, founder Ted Townsend pitches it to Cedar Rapids.

February 2000: A state-funded study finds the project could work in Cedar Rapids. Townsend gets his first look at property northeast of Interstates 80 and 380 in Coralville.

October 2000: Coralville city officials offer Townsend the land and up to $30 million, plus help with infrastructure.

December 2000: The Iowa Child Institute board of directors unanimously votes to build the $280 million project in Coralville. The city pledges $30 million and another $2 million in real estate northeast of interstates 80 and 380.

March 2001: Townsend says Iowa Child no longer will include a public school. Project cost is $293.5 million.

April 2001: Iowa Child names David Oman as chief administrative officer. The former AT&T executive and one-time Republican gubernatorial candidate says organizers must review, retool and reshape the proposal.

June 2001: The U.S. Department of Education awards Iowa Child a nearly $500,000 grant.

July 2001: Officials promise to deliver Iowa Child for $250 million, or less.

September 2001: Revised plan shows a $225 million project on 37 acres southeast of Interstate 80 and First Avenue, near the Iowa River. Coralville withdraws its $30 million pledge. Project officials say Sept. 11 attacks stall fundraising.

May 2002: Oman projects a spring 2007 opening.

July 2002: Financial reports show Townsend bankrolling the project. Oman's salary is $148,791.

November 2003: Project resurfaces only to have its bid for $70 million cut from the federal energy bill.

January 2004: Congress OKs $50 million in federal money for the project, giving it new momentum. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, plays a key role in securing the money.

August 2004: Project leaders say they are certain mammals, as well as fish and birds. will populate the rain forest exhibit. However, they have no other fundraising commitments.

September 2004: Project founder Townsend scolds Coralville's two top officials in an e-mail saying the rain forest project should guide development of the area south of I-80 and east of First Avenue, not the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center.

November 2004: Coralville City Councilor Tom Gill says he wants a deadline for the project to come up with additional private funding.

December 2004: The Press-Citizen reports that the scolding e-mail Townsend sent Coralville officials in September, initially described as "heat of the moment" was signed off on earlier by project chief administrator David Oman.

Oman says critical goals for 2005 include detailed plans for the structure, the securing of at least a part of the $90 million yet to be raised, groundbreaking and start of construction.

February 2005: Rain forest officials say the project is behind on its timeline but that it's not unusual in a project of this size for "construction timelines to slip a bit."

March 2005: Coralville City Councilor John Lundell calls for city and project leaders to have a heart-to-heart, getting a full update on the project's progress and finances. He says he wants a clear timeline with benchmarks for tangible results. If progress is not made by those dates, he said the city should evaluate its options.

July 2005: The project hires KUD International to coordinate all aspects of the construction phase of the project.

August 2005: The city gives the project a set of stipulations it must agree to before the city will transfer land to it. The stipulations include submitting a detailed annual budget and setting a timeline and fund-raising requirements.

The project also terminates its relationship with the project architect, though city leaders prefer staying with the same architect.

The city sets a Sept. 20 deadline for project leaders to respond to the draft land-transfer agreement.

Project leaders hire a new architect, London-based Grimshaw Architects. The announcement spurs Councilor Lundell to say that he will form a council majority with Tom Gill and Jean Schnake to remove city support for the project. "I just think this is one in a long list of issues where they've been unresponsive to our concerns and our suggestions."

September 2005: The deadline passes with negotiations continuing.

November 2005: Grassley introduces language into an annual federal appropriations bill that prevents the project from receiving any more of the $50 million in federal money until it raises non-federal matching funds.

Project leaders send a letter to the city listing a set of "criteria" they need the city to meet or, they say, the project will look at other locations.