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Rain Forest Future Murky

Talks continue past city deadline; claim to fed money studied

Zack Kucharski

The Gazette

October 8, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, 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 Gazette.]

    CORALVILLE — City Council member John Lundell, the key swing vote for whether Coralville continues to work with a proposed indoor rain forest, says he’s increasingly discouraged the long-promised project will be built.

    Meanwhile, the city is trying to determine what claim either the city or the rain forest has to a $50 million federal appropriation.

    Lundell’s discouragement is fueled by the fact that seven weeks have passed since the City Council set a fourweek deadline for reaching an agreement to transfer 22 acres to The Environment a l Project, which is proposing the rain forest.

    ‘‘This is just another example of how deadlines come and go. And that’s been the history of this project,’’ Lundell told The Gazette.

    ‘‘My problem with the project all along has been they’ve had a long time to make something happen. It is just one long waiting game. I’m probably more discouraged than ever that I could support the project.’’

    But without a solidly defined fallback option for the site, City Council members don’t appear in a hurry to leave the negotiating table.

    ‘‘I don’t think anybody disagrees the best possible scenario for Coralville would be to develop something on that property that has a very large ‘wow’ factor to it,’’ Lundell said.

    The city estimates the land is worth $40 million. The $180 million rain forest would be just south of Interstate 80 near the Iowa River. The rain forest has been expected to be a main anchor for a massive redevelopment of urban renewal property.

    City Council member Tom Gill, who along with council member Jean Schnake opposes the project, said he hasn’t pressed others on the five-person council to end negotiations. Instead, he wants to know whether a $50 million U.S. Department of Energy appropriation is designated specifically for The Environmental Project or whether it could be used by Coralville for another energy-themed project.

    ‘‘If this is site-specific to Coralville, we should just get that money and go do our own project. If it is not sitespecific for Coralville, maybe (the project) should go down the road,’’ Gill said.

    City Administrator Kelly Hayworth acknowledged Friday the city is researching what claim either the city or The Environmental Project has to the money.

    ‘‘We are interested in the legalities of where that money would end up and what the requirements are of the appropriation,’’ he said.

    Hayworth said he wants an agreement in the ‘‘very near future.’’ But there are no plans for additional negotiations, he said, or any plans to discuss the matter with council members. ‘‘We’ve got so many different things going on right now, this isn’t the No. 1 priority to get completed and resolved.’’

    Nancy Quellhorst, director of operations for the project, is hopeful the project will regain support. ‘‘I have tremendous respect for Coralville city officials and council members. I sincerely hope we will be able to come to terms and work together as dedicated partners,’’ she said.