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Earthpark commitee chooses Pella

Mike Sullivan

The Pella Chronicle

October 9, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Pella Chronicle, 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 Pella Chronicle.]

After months of speculation, the announcement was made Thursday to locate the Earthpark on the shores of Lake Red Rock in Marion County.

"The site along the north shore of Lake Red Rock is spectacular," said David Oman, Earthpark's Executive Director.

The Earthpark board of directors picked the Marion County site over Riverside, the other finalist. Twelve Earthpark board members voted for the Marion County site, three opposed it and one abstained.

"A world-class destination merits a world-class setting. Pella, for so many reasons, is the right place for Earthpark," said former Governor Robert Ray, who chairs the Earthpark board. "Pella is a community synonymous with quality, recognized for its tourism marketing prowess and sharing Earthpark's soaring vision. It is an outstanding match."

The Point at Red Rock is a planned residential, recreational and retail resort to be built on 240 acres on the southeastern shore of Lake Red Rock, a 15,250 acre body of water surrounded by 50,000 acres of natural habitat managed by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Earthpark officials have yet to announce full financing for the project, which organizers estimate could attract about a million visitors a year.

Oman said the deal with Pella and Marion County will help in Earthpark's negotiations for a state Vision Iowa grant that he thinks will bring in some of the needed money. "The decision today is huge," for reasons that include added leverage in completing the financial work, Oman said. He said Earthpark officials will meet Oct. 16 to discuss financial arrangements.

Oman said that placing the project, promoted for its educational aspects, near the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort, bothered some board members.

The early design work by Grimshaw Architects , which also designed the Eden Project in England, calls for a three-section rain forest, inside, the attraction would have 1,000 species of plants, various birds, fish and other reptiles.

Des Moines businessman Ted Townsend and associates had negotiated with several cities -- including Cedar Rapids, Coralville and Des Moines to be the location of Earthpark. All three cities, for one reason or another, were unable to secure the Earthpark location.

Pella's plans for the location include a donation of 70 acres by the developers of the Point at Red Rock, which will contain a 240-acre residential, recreation and retail development near Red Rock Lake outside of Pella.

Townsend added, "I could not be more pleased in Pella, it is more special than Eden."

"Why Pella?" queried Oman. "It's a beautiful place to build this spectacular green development. Pella is a very special, conservative place and is so interested in tourism. We will also have the oppoirtunity to tell the Iowa story."

Pella Mayor Darrell Dobernecker said his community's well-deserved reputation for tourism and a job well done helped tip the balance in its favor.

"It may have been a long path to get where we are today but I never doubted for a moment we'd get here and the reason is Pella pride. From day one, Governor Ray and the Earthpark team saw the tremendous pride we have in doing a quality job and opening our community to visitors," Dobernecker said. "Pella takes pride in being chosen today as the home of Earthpark and we're going to be prouder than ever when the work we do together turns the Earthpark vision into a reality."

"We feel fantastic today. From that day in December when the thought came to us to invite Earthpark to Pella, we've said that the sum of our proposal is greater than the parts. The Earthpark board's decision is recognition of that fact." said developer Mark Bockenstedt. "Earthpark belongs here. The Point is a natural setting like no other and Pella definitely knows how to roll out the red carpet to visitors."

Marion County Supervisor Howard Pothoven said Earthpark will bring "more that it's outstanding environmental story and breath-taking architectural features when it comes" to Pella.

"Earthpark will generate an estimated $130 million in economic activity each year. It will create 500 construction jobs for three years, more than 150 permanent jobs and some two-thousand indirect jobs," Pothoven said. "Earthpark is a winner for Pella, Marion County and all of Central Iowa. We couldn't be happier with the Earthpark's decision and look forward to the day when a truly world-class tourism attraction opens its door right here on the shores of Red Rock Lake."

The Earthpark board met last Thursday morning in Grinnell to make their final decision. Governor Ray, along with Oman, board member Philippe Cousteau and architect Andrew Whalley announced the decision to the media.

Cousteau, grandson of noted oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, heads the Washington, D. C.,environmental group EarthEcho International. He joined the Earthpark board about a year ago. Whalley designed the Eden Project.

Whalley said he was impressed by the views of Lake Red Rock and by the views surrounding the area.

"When I first saw this site at Pella, I was really taken by its natural beauty," he said. Whalley hopes a building that would serve as a welcome center for Earthpark will open in 2009, a year before Earthpark itself opens.

Oman said, "More than 350,000 tourists visit Pella each year. The Knoxville Speedway draws 200,000 people a year and the Iowa Speedway at Newton in coming on line with the promise of 500,000 spectators per year."

He continued, "At the same time, the Neal Smith National Wildlife Center is just miles away and a state, local and federal partnership that is working on the planned $38 million Cordova nature interpretive center is just eight miles up the Red Rock shore from the future home of Earthpark. The result will be an environmental Corridor centered in an area that already has a record of tourism success. This spectacular site also complements the Department of Natural resources flagship park under construction at lake Rathbun."

"We are in uncharted waters," added the Pella Mayor, "Not only for Pella, but for all of Marion County and this great state of Iowa."

He continued, "There has been a tremendous amount of work done on this project by Karen Eischen, Carla Ferguson and Mike Nardini. I sincerely applaud their efforts." Eischen is the Executive Director of the Pella Chamber of Commerce, Ferguson heads the Marion County Development Commission and Nardini is Pella's City Administrator.

Earthpark will include a large 600,000 gallon freshwater aquarium, exterior prairie and wetland exhibits, an indoor rain forest biome, and galleries on global environmental science issues. Sophisticated 'green' technologies and demonstrations of how such innovations can benefit the economy and environment will also be seen by visitors.

Earthpark will feature sustainable design and materials, and will use renewable systems.

Siemens, one of the world's largest technology and engineering companies, will provide Earthpark with products, services, and design input. Construction of Earthpark will begin in 2007. It is scheduled to open in 2010.

The design partner for Earthpark is Grimshaw Architects of London and New York. Grimshaw was the principal architect for the Eden Project in Cornwall, U.K., the only other environmental facility similar to what Earthpark will become. Eden generates approximately $250 Million in economic activity in Cornwall annually and has welcomed 8 million visitors in its first five years of operations. Eden is situated in an area approximately five hours from London.