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And Now There Are Three

Mary Zielinski

Washington Evening Journal
[ 10, 2006]

July 10, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Washington [Iowa] Evening Journal, 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 Washington Evening Journal and]

      Now there are three.

      Withdrawal of Grinnell from consideration as a site for the long-sought Earthpark (rain forest) leaves only three communities sitting at the table to ante up for the estimated $155 million project. It has been reported that Grinnell was out because the interested group could not raise the $25 million community match for a project that will rely on private investors and federal and state grants to build.

      Besides Riverside, the other two communities are Tiffin and Pella, and to date, there has been no official announcement if they have the community match. Back in April the Earthpark (then Environmental Project) CEO, David Oman, said a site decision would be made by early June.

      In Riverside, the main player is the Riverside Casino & Golf Course that has offered $12 million as well as a site for the project. The Casino's CEO Dan Kehl suggested that an additional $8 million could come from the Washington County Riverboat Foundation at the rate of $800,000 per year for a decade. The funds would come from the estimated $3.2 million the Foundation will have from annual state-mandated casino allocations. The Foundation is the license holder for the county's gambling permit and is to distribute the funds to the county's charitable and non-profit groups.

      "It is looking good for Riverside," said Cheryl Goode , the marketing director for the casino that will open September 1.

      Tim Putney, chairman of the Foundation, also saw Grinnell's withdrawing as strengthening Riverside's position. He noted that Riverside offers a very accessible site from both Interstate 80 and Highway 218 (part of the Avenue of the Saints interstate system), and it would be near the Casino, the largest gambling facility/resort in Iowa that estimates it will have some 1.2 million visitors annually.

      If Riverside were to be the site -- and a number of Riverside residents and businesses hope it will be -- Oman said it would about 2009 before it would open.