The Red and the Green

Random Mentality

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

It's kind of a Christmas theme. I said I'd stay away from news absent a "major screw-up by a politician or the media, or a legal opinion setting new precedent (or with a reaaaallly weird fact pattern)". I should've added "or another really stupid editorial in the Press-Citizen designed to placate the public into accepting the fake rainforest in Coralville." Here's the fisk:


Chief project administrator David Oman said that next year critical goals should be met, including detailed plans for the caterpillar-shaped structure, the securing of at least a portion of the roughly $90 million yet to be raised and a projected groundbreaking and start of construction mid-year.

"We're at a key point now where time is as important as finances," Oman said Tuesday. "It will be a red-letter year for the project."

Mr. Oman, are you certain you want to juxtapose the words "red letter" and "finances?"

Particularly in light of your stated "critical goal" in the first paragraph: securing "at least a portion of the roughly $90 million yet to be raised."

By my calculations, you've raised nothing beyond pork-barrel grants from various governmental entities and $10 million from the project founder. Not one solid outside commitment for cash, though the project's been in the works since before 2000.

Yep, So long as you have a solid $5 commitment from somebody other than government committees or project leader Ted Townsend, you'll go forward and d*mn the torpedoes.

So it looks like we're actually going to break ground on this $180 million, 18-story metal and glass caterpillar, undulating along I-80 to amuse and mystify truck drivers and commuters; tourists who stare out steamy car windows at the strange monolith on their journey to places like Disney Land, the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains, and the Henry Doorly Zoo rainforest only hours away in Omaha.

Of course, theoretically, you should be able to pay for the thing if you're going to build it. And not with ethereal dollars derived from project estimates that require over 50,000 people per day to voluntarily enter into the belly of the big glass worm.

The project, planned for the southeast corner of Interstate 80 and First Avenue, will stretch three football fields in length and rise 18 stories high. Inside, visitors will find a 4.5-acre rain forest and a 1.2 million gallon aquarium as well as teaching and research space.

Twenty members of the Environmental Project's board of directors met Tuesday to plan the next steps for the project for 2005 including getting the next set of construction drawings.

These would include specific dimensions and materials for the project and a solid budget for the outer walls and structure of the enclosed rain forest. Oman said engineers should finish the plans by the board's next meeting in February, although the initial timeline had called for completed plans by the end of 2004.

Also Tuesday, a group of about six scientists met for the first time to start discussing the research possibilities of the project. Next year, the project team also should address the logistics of making the rain forest grow and flourish under its dome.

Please tell me you didn't design what is essentially a large, unusually-shaped greenhouse without figuring out what conditions the plants needed to grow first. You know, temperature, lighting and other pesky critical design details?

'Cause that's just way too easy. I like a challenge. This is like picking on a brain-dead puppy for not being able to fetch.

The science design team ultimately will make recommendations about what research should be included and how to tie in full-time staff scientists with education.

Benjamin Beck, director of conservation at the Great Ape Trust of Iowa, led the team of scientists, which is likely to expand.

You can't figure out how to integrate science and teaching? Okay, some of us have got these strange things called "teaching hospitals" scattered all around the country. There are also many other types of museums where people study things and the public comes to be educated at the very same time.
Oman also said that in a few months, several million more dollars should come into the project, which reached the halfway mark at $90 million in January.

He said project officials hope want to at least have a ceremonial groundbreaking in mid-2005, even if not all the money is secured. Oman said a groundbreaking could encourage the last of the funding to come through.

"You don't need to have every dollar in the drawer before you ... begin construction," he said.

Yep, that $5 contribution from somebody else isn't even critical for groundbreaking. You're going to go forward and waste our tax dollars whether or not you've been told by private investors to jump off a very big cliff because the project is, well, stupid. You're hoping that if you speak slowly and wave shiny objects in front of our eyes, we won't notice this.
Oman said the project is working with corporations, individuals and foundations in securing more funds for the project. He said the project is in fifth meetings with some of the companies, most of which are out of state and some are sizable. He mentioned that project officials had made recent trips to California and New York to try to secure funding.
You keep harping on all this travel you're doing to meet with potential donors, yet you haven't come up with zip in the years this ugly monolith has been in the "design phase." Glad you at least get to see New York and California while you're at it.
E-mails from project to Coralville officials, obtained by the Press-Citizen through an open records request, have mentioned General Electric, Ford, John Deere and Hewlett Packard as potential partners.

Bob Ray, the project's board chairman, said he sensed optimism in the board of directors meeting.

"I think the board is more excited than I've seen them at any time previous," he said.

Of course you're optimistic. You get to go back to California for more "meetings" while the rest of us are stuck in the snow.
Some still are skeptical about the project's probability of success, however, including Coralville city councilor Tom Gill. On Nov. 11, Gill said he wanted to see private funds in 60 days, even though other councilors did not share his view. As Jan. 11 approaches, Gill said he stands by his position.

He said he would oppose giving land the city has obtained to the project until all of the funding was secured. He said he supports the idea of the project but said funding hasn't progressed in a year.

"You can design and design and the money keeps going away, and we keep sitting on land that's not generating tax dollars," Gill said.

He said he had hoped the board would announce private funds Tuesday.

"I don't really want to knock the project," he said. "I thought they would come out with some kind of splash."

I'm sorry, Mr. Gill. Please don't hold your breath on this one. They've been telling us for a year that they're going to break ground and start spending money for our "education" whether or not they get a solid dime from outside sources. I agree it will be educational.

You're on the right track, but you do need to step up to the plate here. Require this project to be fully paid for by private funds, at least to the tune of the other $90 million, before we break ground and they've got us where they want us: "Come on. You've already spent $90 mil, you going to just let this rot half-finished?"

It is in the hands of the Coralville City Counsel to stop the insanity. The rest of us can only b*tch about it, shake our heads in disbelief at the surreal level of acceptance when the community figuratively bends over to say "please, Sir, may I have another?"