Rain forest board does too much in secrecy

Richard A. Patterson

The Gazette

January 1, 2005

    It concerns me that the board of directors of the rain forest project meets in secrecy and is considering construction before all the funding is in hand.

    The greatest financial challenge in operating an attraction of this sort isnít locating up-front money. Itís finding income to run the organization five to 10 years after the dedication ceremony. Too many project promoters assume that admission income from thousands of visitors will cover the insurance, staff compensation, maintenance and other day-to-day costs. This hardly ever happens. Thatís why even the largest and most prestigious museums, zoos and other attractions hold annual fund-raisers for operating funds to augment admission income.

    Tight operating budgets often begin five to 10 years after the attraction opens. By then the original board and staff have departed. A second generation of leaders must figure out how to pay the bills. Often they go to the taxpayers or local businesses.

    A responsible way to reduce the odds for future operating shortfalls is to locate all the construction money and a significant endowment before the groundbreaking. That way, the attraction opens with no debt, and the endowment contributes money each year to pay for replacing the roof, repairing exhibits, utilities and other needs.

    The rain forest board of directors can add credibility to the project by opening meetings to the public. Hopefully the board will follow a funding model that does not include construction debt and does not rely solely on admission income.

    Richard A. Patterson

    Cedar Rapids