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Plan B in Works for Site

Coralville Seeks Ideas in Case Rain Forest Project Falls Through

Zack Kucharski

The Gazette

March 28, 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.]

    CORALVILLE — City officials are ready to start figuring out what to put on a 22-acre site tabbed for an indoor rain forest if the $180 million attraction goes somewhere else.

    Josh Schamberger, executive director of the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, volunteered recently to help guide discussions to determine what local residents and civic leaders want built at the site, The Gazette has learned.

    The City Council tonight is to discuss how to collect input from people who have ideas for the site. That will be on the eve of when The Environmental Project, which is proposing the rain forest, hears a recommendation on where to put it.

    Coralville city leaders began asking residents for other ideas for the city-owned land in December, when the city failed to reach a land deal with The Environmental Project. The city’s spot just south of Interstate 80 along the Iowa River remains under consideration.

    ‘‘It’s our intent we hear what people’s ideas are in a more formal way and proceed forward with getting a major attraction in that area,’’ Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said Monday. ‘‘We want to be very open and public about what opportunities are out there.’’

    Hayworth said he expects to gather a wide variety of ideas for the site, but that it is important the city focus on what ‘‘realistically can be done.’’

    Schamberger said he doesn’t expect the public process to determine what specific kind of attraction is built on the site. But the input would be given to interested developers who then can bid for a project on the site.

    The developers would decide how to incorporate ideas from the public, he said.

    ‘‘The best way to present this is that we already have a cake that we’ve made here,’’ Schamberger said. ‘‘I think it’s important we spend the next few months working with our partners and citizens on the icing.’’

    Careful consideration is needed when deciding how to develop the site because of its potential impact both locally and regionally, Hayworth and Schamberger said. That development figures to have a major impact on the city’s $58.6 million Marriott Hotel and Conference Center opening in August and the commercial redevelopment of about 180 acres referred to as the Iowa River Landing District next to the hotel.

    ‘‘We have a great opportunity with some pretty prime real estate not only for Coralville and Iowa City but for the entire state,’’ Schamberger said. ‘‘I think there are going to be some very creative proposals that will come to the table for our community to look at.’’