Wednesday, September 29, 2004

City moves to seize land for rain forest

From the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Wednesday, September 29, 2004:

City officials have initiated condemnation proceedings against a property owner who stands in the way of a planned $180 million indoor rain forest and education center.

City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said the city asked a judge to appoint a compensation committee to place a value on property owned by Jere and Ruth Wissink. The committee hearing is Nov. 10. Included are several lots, with at least the 211 E. 10th St. home of Holiday Wrecker needed for the rain forest.

"We just felt that we are so far apart, there wasn't any reason to wait any longer," Hayworth said.

It marks the first time the city has resorted to condemnation in the old industrial park, southeast of Interstate 80 and First Avenue.

Last time I saw, the Rainforest was more than $100 million short of funding.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Some thoughts from State29 on the Des Moines Register article on Sunday concerning the phony PorkForest attendance projections:

Visitors could stroll on suspended wooden bridges 100 feet in the air
That is, until somebody decides to commit suicide by jumping off.

The 20-story enclosure would look like a giant foil-covered caterpillar to motorists next door on Interstate Highway 80.
Er, no. It would look more like a grub worm:

That is, of course, if backers can raise the remaining $90 million for the $180 million project and if the Iowa Environmental Project can attract the 1.1 million visitors a year that it needs to pay for itself.
They haven't been able to raise much money other than gouging the taxpayers. Expect to see these scammers try to dip into Vision Iowa, the Iowa Values Fund, or some other pot of green (or red, considering that the $50 million Grassley secured for them is deficit-funded...)

"Iowans are not into hyperbole and sensationalism," Oman said, "but this facility has the potential to be Iowa's Gateway Arch or Space Needle or Sydney Opera House."
The St Louis metro ahead has almost the same population as the entire state of Iowa. The Seattle metro area has 3.5 million. Sydney, Australia, has over 4 million people. But of course these cities are much much smaller than the entire state of Iowa.

If it fails, organizers are not saying what might happen to the giant complex that is being planned.
I know what will happen. It'll be Prairie Meadows II: Rainforest Boogaloo. They'll shoe-horn gambling in there.

ConsultEcon estimates that Des Moines businessman Ted Townsend's Coralville idea, which is projected to open in late 2008, is most likely to attract 1.3 million visitors per year.

On its busiest days, the rain forest complex would attract up to 4,900 people, according to the consultants' report.

To put that in some perspective, last year the Louvre, the famed Paris art museum, displayed Leonardo da Vinci masterpieces in a special exhibition and drew 5,511 visitors on average days. In a typical year, the Louvre's overall annual attendance is 6 million people - four times what the Iowa facility expects.

The consultants also expect the new Coralville complex to pull as many, or more, visitors than the long-established Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, which has a smaller rain forest, an IMAX theater, an aquarium and a "Desert Dome" in a traditional zoo setting, and is in a much larger metropolitan area.

Coral Ridge Mall, just a couple of miles down I-80 from the proposed site for the Coralville rain forest, lures 10 million guests a year.
No, let me put it into perspective:

1.3 million people divided by 360 days is 3611 people per day.

How many people are going to visit when the high temp in Coralville is 2 degrees above zero? 15 degrees? 25 degrees? How about when we get a snowstorm? Will people be sliding off I-80 to check out the PorkForest on those days? I think on those days you'd be lucky to get more than a couple hundred paying customers - if that.

If about 3600 paying customers, per day, is what they need, and the biggest days of the year they expect to get 4900 paying customers (presumably a weekend during nicer weather), then how are they going to make up a deficit due to a snow storm or frigid weather?

And tickets are expected to be $15 a head. Just how much do they expect to milk out of Iowans, much less "tourists"?

And why are they comparing the PorkForest to CoralRidge Mall? I can walk into the mall for free. I go to the mall to buy things, eat lunch, see movies, ice skate, or just hang out. Can't do that at the PorkForest - remember, the IMAX movie costs extra.

The Des Moines Sunday Register compared the ConsultEcon consultants' projections for the Coralville complex to attendance figures at other facilities and found that it would attract as many visitors as - or more than - the Milwaukee Public Museum, which includes a smaller rain forest and is in a metro area of 1.5 million people; the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland; the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tenn.; the Montreal Biodome in Canada; and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, which is located in a metropolitan area of 2.9 million - about the same population as the entire state of Iowa.
Driving across town in Milwaukee or Montreal or Cleveland is not the same as driving to Coralville from, say, Le Mars, New Albion, Keokuk, or Lamoni.

What if the experts are wrong?

Oman is not saying. He avoided answering questions about what would be done with the facility - and whether taxpayers would pay the deficits - should the rain forest fail to draw the 1.1 million annual visitors needed to break even.

He suggested that it is a virtual certainty the Coralville project will succeed.

"We are proceeding with confidence in the power and potential of this project," based on the success of other projects designed by the architects and economists on board, Oman said. "The board and management would have to deal with business challenges if or when they arise."
A "virtual certainty" that the PorkForest will succeed. Google, please, suck that quote up.

Sensible people should be asking themselves this question: If it's such a certainty, how come nobody is investing their own money in it?

Critic Eileen Robb wrote in a letter to The Des Moines Register as the project unfolded: "Perhaps the best that Iowans can hope for is that it will be purchased for pennies on the dollar in the future and put to a rational economic use, as happened in March 2003 to Colorado's Ocean Journey. The bankrupt $93 million Denver aquarium was recently purchased for just $13.6 million by Landry's seafood restaurant chain. Folks in Denver will now be able to watch their fish and eat them, too."
She's entirely right.

Now, one final thing.

The PorkForest is expected to cost somewhere between $180 million and $200 million. These attendance figures are cited to just break even.

Compare the PorkForest to Jordan Creek Town Center, the new mall in West Des Moines.

Jordan Creek cost $200 million to develop and build.

579,000 people visited Jordan Creek in the first 5 days it was open. Over a million will visit in the first two weeks.

If you build the right thing, people will come.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

The Register is running it's periodic article on the Pork Forest. Although this one is phrased to read as a mild investigation into the attendance projections, in the end it gives the projections the seal of approval.

Figures. Look, I suppose it's possible that the Forest will draw one and a half million paying customers per year at almost fifteen bucks a head. But, we shouldn't be betting hundreds of millions in tax dollars on it.