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Coralville, Rain Forest Groups Keep Talks Intact

But Board Also Tells City It's Evaluating Other Communities

Zack Kucharski

The Gazette

December 14, 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.]


    AMANA — Coralville city officials and the group proposing the $180 million indoor rain forest say they made progress Tuesday in negotiations to keep the proposed mega-attraction in Coralville.

    But the rain forest board is still looking, and on Tuesday three of its board members were appointed to look at proposals from Coralville and other communities.

    ‘‘Both parties agree there was good discussion on the merits of the Coralville site and headway on some of the issues which have been under discussion,’’ according to a joint statement released last night.

    Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth and City Council members Tom Gill and John Weihe met with rain forest board members earlier Tuesday to discuss the Coralville site during a board meeting in the Holiday Inn of The Amana Colonies.

    Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth considers the discussion between city leaders and the project a ‘‘real positive step,’’ but declined to discuss specific points made during the city’s presentation in the closed meeting.

    ‘‘I think we are attempting to resolve our issues from both sides and I think it’s just an ongoing process,’’ Hayworth said.

    The city was also joined by Lee Clancey, president and CEO of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, and Josh Schamberger, executive director of the Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

    Former Iowa Gov. Robert Ray, chairman of the board of The Environmental Project, the group proposing the rain forest, appointed three board members on Tuesday to review Coralville’s proposal as well as evaluate offers from other communities. The committee includes Cedar Rapids resident Leonard Hadley, former President/CEO of Maytag of Cedar Rapids, Betsy Roe of Central Community College in Pella, and Richard Johnson, former state auditor from Sheldahl to review information shared by Coralville.

    Rain forest officials and Coralville city leaders — which had been working together since 2000 — both decided last week they would look at other options after failing to reach a land deal.

    David Oman, executive director of the group proposing the rain forest, said last week the project would begin looking at options in eight or nine communities — including Des Moines, Dubuque, Riverside and Tiffin — which expressed interest in the rain forest. He did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

    Weihe was unsure whether Tuesday’s meeting between project and city leaders was a significant turn-around.

    ‘‘I just don’t know,’’ said Weihe. ‘‘They said they’re still looking at other sites, so I just don’t know.’’

    City Council member John Lundell, who participated in last week’s teleconference but who was traveling Tuesday, says he is glad the rain forest board appears to be seriously considering Coralville.

    ‘‘Coralville is by far the best site for this project,’’ he said.

    Hayworth was unsure last night whether the city also would continue to look at other options for the 22 acres offered to the rain forest immediately south of Interstate 80 near the Iowa River.

    ‘‘At this point, I really don’t know what to tell you one way or the other,’’ Hayworth said. ‘‘We’re always considering other options, to be real honest, with the holidays coming upon us, it’s going to be real difficult to start a process anyways.’’