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Museum Plans Phase 2

Talk of a Rainforest Coming to Town Forces Officials to Release Details

Rob Kundert

Dubuque Telegraph Herald

December 16, 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.]

Blame it on the rainforest.

Plans started more than a year ago for the second phase of the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. But they didn't necessarily include a rainforest that had been pegged for Coralville, Iowa.

Museum officials didn't want to tip their hand just yet, but talk of a rainforest possibly moving to Dubuque forced the issue, according to Jerry Enzler, executive director of the river museum.

"We want the public to know that we have visions of our own that don't include the Iowa Environmental Project. If (project officials) think that they can mesh with our world-class vision, we would consider some portions of their (rainforest) project here," Enzler said.

The Dubuque City Council will be asked next month to set a public hearing on whether the former Adams Co. plant, about 600 feet from the museum at the Port of Dubuque, could be used for the museum's next growth spurt.

The multi-attraction phase 2 would double the current museum's size and cost more than $20 million, according to Enzler.

"I would like to see all this by 2009 to 2010," he said of the concept that first began taking shape in August of 2004.

The museum's plans are impressive. Here a just a few of the ideas.

* 3D big-screen theater. Not quite the same as IMAX, this huge, digital-format venue also could include a "4D" feature.

"We have some 4D elements in (the museum's) "River Journey" when the seats shake," Enzler said.

* River to the Seas galleries would include aquariums, hands-on exhibits and elements to show environmental aspects of rivers and their impacts on oceans. This could include innovative ways to bring the message home by using a "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" approach to the hands-on exhibit, Enzler said.

* A children's museum, and water-themed "splash zone."

"It would incorporate fresh and salt water creatures, totally hands on, with water activities to understand the science of water," Enzler said.

* Outdoor Amphitheater. A large venue, possibly with a stage, for demonstrations and programs, such as those with birds of prey, in a more formal setting.

* International River Gallery that could include exhibits of the rivers of the world.

"This is where the Amazon River could fit in," Enzler said, referring to the rain forest project.

The project's first stop will be a city council meeting in January to discuss the property in question.

"We are looking at revitalizing the Adams Co., but not as an historic preservation project," Enzler said of the 42,000-square-foot structure which would be enlarged by 6,000 to 8,000 square feet to house the proposed attractions.

State law requires a public hearing any time the city disposes interest in property by lease or sale, according to Dubuque City Manager Mike Van Milligen.

The city acquired the Adams Co. property as part of a deal to move the company to the Industrial Center West.

Enzler also said the museum will seek public comment on the plans to gauge support.

As for turning to the city for funding, "no way. No tax. No bonds. This will be voluntary contributions," Enzler said. "We will be looking to donors the same way we built this (river museum and aquarium) institution."

In fact, fund-raising already has started. The project received $5 million from the Department of Transportation.

As for the rain forest - once destined to a site off I-80 near Coralville - its future is murkier.

The rain forest project's board of directors met this week and voted unanimously to investigate the offers from other communities, according to David Oman, the project's executive director. A site selection committee has been charged with the task.

"It is expected that the soonest we would have a decision would be February," he said.