Return to Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site

Return to Nicholas Johnson's Coralville Rain Forest Web Site

Rain Forest Demands More Land

If Coralville Doesn't Meet Conditions by Dec. 2, Project Will Look Elsewhere

Zack Kucharski

The Gazette

November 24, 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.]

What the project wants:     CORALVILLE — The controversial indoor rain forest’s future in Coralville remained in doubt Wednesday after the project’s leader asked the city to increase its 22-acre site offer by three to eight acres and push the project farther from Interstate 80.

    While Coralville City Council members agreed to meet in person with The Environmental Project in coming weeks, three of the five council members have doubts the sides can agree to terms.

    The request for more land is among a list of criteria Coralville must meet by Dec. 2 or the project’s board will proceed with exploring other options, the board’s chairman, former Iowa Gov. Robert Ray, said in a Nov. 18 letter.

    Project officials also want land transferred to the project without restrictions, written support from all City Council members and confirmation of the city’s ability to raise $40 million through local donors, Ray wrote.

    ‘‘More than ever, our board and team believe there is a sense of urgency in determining, once and for all, whether the proposed Iowa River Landing site and the Project’s relationship with Coralville will work near and long term,’’ Ray wrote in the letter the city released Wednesday.

    City Council member Tom Gill said the proposal confirmed his suspicions that project leaders want to go elsewhere in Iowa.

    ‘‘If there wasn’t a name of somebody important attached to the bottom of it, you’d probably think it was a couple of elementary school kids sending a proposal,’’ Gill said. ‘‘The door is always open negotiate, but when you get something like this after all these months, it’s kind of a waste of time to take a look at because it’s so far out it’s just fiction.’’

    Council member Jean Schnake said the request to push the rain forest away from the interstate is ‘‘out of the blue.’’

    ‘‘They knew where it was located; they knew how much land was available; they embraced the location. Suddenly we’re supposed to relocate the project. Why is it suddenly wrong now?’’ said Schnake, who continues to have what she calls ‘‘severe reservations’’ about giving the project any land.

    The Environmental Project — which needs $90 million for its $180 million rain forest — and Coralville have been negotiating terms to transfer city-owned land for an artificial rain forest just south of Interstate 80 near the Iowa River. The city sent its terms to project leadership in late August and had been asking since then for the project’s counterproposal.

    The council wants an agreement that requires a rain forest or education facility for at least 21 years and for it always to be a museum-quality attraction. The city also wants a say in how the rain forest is built and $120 million spent on construction, while allowing the city to make budget changes until the rain forest opens in 2009.

    City Council member John Lundell, who had suspected project leaders were trying to force an impasse in negotiations, was more cautious Wednesday.

    ‘‘Certainly there are some things in there that I can’t see how we can possibly live with, but they’re all subject to discussion now,’’ he said. ‘‘No matter which way it goes, it’s the next step in drawing a conclusion on the project.’’

    Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said the city could provide additional land if the City Council desires. Hayworth said he wanted more information before commenting about the project’s other specific requests.

    ‘‘I could not tell you honestly today whether we can reach terms today or not. I just have no idea,’’ Hayworth said. ‘‘That’s why we need to have a face-to-face meeting and stop sending agreements back and forth and just once and for all determine this.’’

    Council members John Weihe and Henry Herwig said they welcome the meetings, though Weihe said he would not give city-owned land without requiring the project to be fiscally responsible. ‘‘If we can get some local support and do some things, great, but we’re not going to give up the farm without getting something,’’ Weihe said.