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7 Cities Vying for Indoor Rain Forest

Zack Kucharski

The Gazette

February 1, 2006

[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.]

   IOWA CITY — Seven communities in east and central Iowa have expressed interest in pursuing the proposed $155 million indoor rain forest.

   Groups in Des Moines, Coralville, Riverside, Tiffin, Grinnell, Dubuque and Pella submitted information to the group proposing the mega-attraction by Tuesday’s deadline, said David Oman, executive director of The Environmental Project.

   ‘‘We had good feedback today and we have a lot of work to do and we’re excited about it,’’ Oman said. ‘‘We have half a dozen very interesting communities who understand the project, have taken the time to study it, and see its potential economic benefit.’’

   The Environmental Project has been looking for a new site after it and Coralville city officials failed to reach an agreement on a 22-acre site in December. Oman said he had not yet reviewed all of the materials submitted by the communities and would not discuss what each city, institution or developer included in their submissions to the project.

   Three project board members — former Maytag CEO Leonard Hadley of Cedar Rapids, Betsy Roe of Central College in Pella and former State Auditor Richard Johnson of Sheldahl — will review the submissions and determine how to analyze the materials later this week, Oman said.

   Those board members will consider details of each potential site and each group’s ability to provide local financing, Oman said. The project’s request for information sought up to $25 million in local financing and willingness to partner on a Vision Iowa grant application to the state.

   ‘‘We weren’t asking for guarantees or promises,’’ Oman said of a request for information on each community’s fundraising abilities. ‘‘Those are topics that need to be worked through.’’

   The rain forest’s $155 million price tag includes design, construction and start-up costs, but does not include the land that would have made it a $180 million project in Coralville.