to Nicholas Johnson's Iowa Rain Forest ("Earthpark") Web Site
Earthpark Now Down to 3 Sites
Grinnell Pulls Out Unable to Raise Money
Iowa City Press-Citizen
July 6, 2006
[Note: This material is copyright by the Press-Citizen, 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 Iowa City Press-Citizen.]A final selection, as voted on by the Earthpark board of directors, was expected in mid-May and then June. Now it is unclear when a final choice will be made. Earthpark director David Oman said Wednesday that a full board meeting at which a final site would be chosen is still pending, but unscheduled. He was not sure when that would happen.
Bill Menner, executive director of Poweshiek Iowa Development and a leader of Grinnell's effort to land the $155 million Earthpark project, said Wednesday that his group sent a letter to project leaders notifying them of the withdrawal.
"We decided it would be in the best interest for the project," Menner said.
Grinnell has been competing with Riverside, Tiffin and Pella to land the project since the end of March. The four finalists were being compared based on a four-part criterion, including ambiance, acreage, access and a $25 million local match.
Riverside and Pella each have reached the $25 million level.
A final selection, as voted on by the Earthpark board of directors, was expected in mid-May and then June. Now it is unclear when a final choice will be made.
Earthpark director David Oman said Wednesday that a full board meeting at which a final site would be chosen is still pending, but unscheduled. He was not sure when that would happen.
Menner said he thought Earthpark leaders had been "bending over backwards" to give Grinnell every opportunity to raise the money. In the end, time proved too short.
"We raised $15 to $20 million. We would have gotten there, but we couldn't get there in a timely fashion. We wanted to in good faith let them move on," Menner said.
The educational and environmental facility would include a 3.5-acre indoor rain forest with three ecosystems, a half million gallon aquarium, learning and performance space and outdoor prairies and wetlands.
Coralville had been the apparent home for the project for about five years, until December. Project leaders and local leaders couldn't agree on a land transfer ending plans.
Earthpark leaders promise 400 to 500 construction jobs over two and a half years, 150 permanent jobs, 1 million annual visitors and an economic impact of $130 million annually or $10 billion in a decade.
"I am disappointed. I wish we could have come up with that $25 million because I think we would have made a great site," Menner said. "We underestimated the amount of time it would take to nurture those kinds of relationships with donors."
Menner still is optimistic about the project. He expects the board of directors to pick a site "very quickly" and the project to move forward.
He noted that each of the three remaining sites is within an hour drive from Grinnell.
"No matter what, we are going to be very close to a great project," Menner said.