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Riverside Searches for Money for Park

Brian Morelli

Iowa City Press-Citizen

June 19, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 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 Dubuque Telegraph Herald.]

RIVERSIDE -- Raising the $25 million necessary to land the project that features an Amazonian-like rain forest has not been an easy task.

Leaders of the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort, which is proposing a Riverside site, have suggested a portion of that money -- $8 million over 10 years -- could come from the Washington County Riverboat Foundation.

Organized to hold the casino's gaming license, the nonprofit foundation is legislatively required to receive 3 percent, or an estimated $3.2 million, of the casino's yearly gambling revenue. Twenty-five percent of that would, by Iowa Code, go to the nine county towns on a per capita basis and the rest to applying nonprofit and charitable groups in the county.

Early talk for possible beneficiaries included the library, schools and the Washington County Fairground. Earthpark, as the environmental and educational project is now known, is set up as a nonprofit group and would be eligible to receive funds.

"I'd welcome Earthpark," said superintendent Dave Schmitt of the Washington School District. "It would be a great educational tool right in our backyard."

Schmitt is putting together a bid for funds with other superintendents and school districts in the county. He said he wouldn't mind having foundation funds directed toward Earthpark.

"It is a challenge to get the money," Schmitt said. "(Earthpark) is an endeavor that needs to be funded. ... (But) I'd be concerned if a huge amount is expected to come from the foundation."

County residents are split on whether Earthpark is a worthy recipient.

Scott Westerhoff, 35, of Riverside, said he thinks Earthpark would bring more money into the community, which would ultimately help with other projects, so it would be worth using the funds.

"My first thought would be, 'Yeah, it's a good idea.' To have something that close would be good for our community," Westerhoff said. "I think it will bring more money in. I think it will pay off tenfold."

Others in the community questioned why the foundation money would go toward a project where the casino would be the biggest beneficiary.

"I'd much rather have them use it for the school or library," said Eryca Duwa, 29, of Riverside.

Ultimately, where money goes rests with the 14-member foundation board. At this point, fund disbursement is preliminary, as the application form has yet to be created and funds will not start building until September, when the casino opens.

Tim Putney, foundation president and voting member, said the application form would likely be approved at the next board meeting Wednesday. He expects the foundation to receive a monthly check from the casino beginning in September and to disburse the first funds shortly into 2007. Disbursements would then continue on a quarterly or a semi-annual basis.

"We will look at all applications and determine their worthiness based on what it's going to do and the number of people it's going to impact," Putney said. "We want to help as many people as we can every year. At the same time, I'm not going to say we can't do a big project like a library or a Captain Kirk museum here in Riverside, versus spreading it out."

Putney said he thinks Earthpark would be good for the area and would be a worthy recipient.

"We'll be making choices that would impact other projects," said Ed Raber, board member and director of Washington economic development. "If we would give $1 million for the Washington library, it would be less money for other things, similarly if we gave $1 million for Earthpark."

Raber said board members want to use the money to make a big impact on Washington County, and he said Earthpark could fit that bill. He added the county is diversely represented on the board, and he expects some disagreement on how the money should be allotted.

"It is a pretty interesting project," Raber said. "It is a big project, and if it could leverage other projects, it would get serious attention from the board members."