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Rain Forest Pares List to 4 Sites

Finalists Given 6 Weeks to Raise Funds;
Longtime Suitor Coralville Excluded

Zack Kucharski

The Gazette

March 30, 2006

And see, below, Zack Kucharski, Design Takes on New Look

[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.]

    LITTLE AMANA — The four developers and cities hoping to land the $180 million indoor rain forest once headed for Coralville have six weeks to come up with $25 million in local funding.

    The Environmental Project, the group proposing the artificial rain forest, selected proposals from Tiffin, Riverside, Grinnell and Pella as those finalists at a meeting here


    ‘‘Some are well down the r o a d a n d some have work to do,’’ said David Oman, executive director of The Environmental Project. ‘‘Within six weeks, they’ll know and we’ll know whether they’re able to deliver or not.’’

    The Environmental Project board members said they hoped to choose the final site within six weeks. Their decision Wednesday on the finalists capped an effort begun in December, after they failed to agree with Coralville on 22 acres of city-owned land.

    Former Iowa Gov. Robert Ray, board chairman for the project, said each applicant was aware of the project’s request for up to $25 million in local support when submitting its application.

    Ray said he thinks the decision to end consideration of a Coralville site — where the project had been planned since 2000 — may help Riverside and Tiffin build support in the Technology Corridor.

    ‘‘When Coralville was in the mix, I think the others felt they could not raise money in the area. In that regard, I think it’s a plus for those still being considered,’’ he said. ‘‘Will the Corridor support one of these? If they do, I think they could raise the money very quickly.’’

    But Coralville City Council member John Lundell questioned how smaller communities could raise the money in such a short time, especially when the project’s own fundraising has been largely unsuccessful.

    Jim Angstman, vice president of Regency Homes and High Development Corp. in Eastern Iowa, said Corridor support would be critical if his Tiffin proposal is to have a chance.

    ‘‘If people are supportive, we’ll know sooner rather than later whether we’ll be able to raise the money to get it here,’’ he said.

    Glenn Patton, a spokesman for the group trying to include the rain forest on 40 acres where the Washington County Casino Resort is being built south of Iowa City in Riverside, said he hoped to convince Corridor businesses about extending their interests south toward the casino.

    ‘‘We’re prepared to do everything we can to attract The Environmental Project to select Riverside as the site for the rain forest,’’ Patton said.

    Selection of the finalists centered on market potential, highway access, proximity to educational institutions, surrounding development and local funding commitments, Oman said. The selections were based on recommendations from three project board members who spent weeks reviewing the proposals.

    Board members chose the four finalists over proposals from Des Moines, Dubuque and Coralville. Talks with officials from The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque will continue, however, Oman said. The board remains interested in the potential pairing of the two projects, though its members want to concentrate on the four finalists, he said.

    Eric Woolson, spokesman for developers wanting to include the rain forest in a 260-acre commercial and residential development at Lake Red Rock near Pella, said the six-week deadline is realistic for securing commitments from public and private sources. ‘‘I remain confident. Now we really get down to dissecting all the numbers and making sure everything works out right,’’ he said.

    Bill Menner, spokesman for the Grinnell group seeking the rain forest, said his group will have to answer whether the project can secure land next to Interstate 80. ‘‘It’s not just about money. It’s also about the land acquisition,’’ Menner said.

Design Takes on New Look

Zack Kucharski

The Gazette

March 30, 2006

    LITTLE AMANA — New design plans for the $180 million indoor rain forest enclose a 3.5-acre forest in a 15-story nautilus-shaped shell structure.

    The center of the building would house a multistory learning area, while the three main zones of the rain forest — the Amazonian waters, deep jungle and cloud forest — will be wrapped around the learning areas, said Andrew Whalley, who is designing the attraction. He is a partner in London-based Grimshaw Architects

    Members of The Environmental Project, the group proposing the rain forest, released the new design at a board meeting Wednesday.

    The floor of the rain forest will be able to flood for several months of the year — much like the Amazon rain forest — while a variety of trails throughout the forest area will provide different experiences at all levels of the rain forest, Whalley said.

    The new design, revolving around environmental sustainability, includes rolling slopes for plants and allows trees to grow to more than 100 feet tall, he said. The design also includes waterfalls of more than 50 feet, he said.

    Visitors will be able to see the building’s life-support system, providing a greater understanding of how the building works, said Whalley, who was involved in the design of a similar environmental attraction called The Eden Project in Cornwall, England.

    The exterior of the building will consist of a translucent foil system, which was included in previous design plans for the rain forest.

    Additional details of the building’s design will be driven by the final site selection, Whalley said. That decision is expected in mid-May.