Saturday, April 30, 2005

Iowa City Press-Citizen: Show Me The Money

I luvvv the black mannnn!!!!

Finally! An Iowa newspaper is calling for the con artists organizers of the Iowa Child rainforest project in Coralville to come up with some private contributions:
After landing a $50 million federal gift early last year, officials of Coralville's proposed Environmental Project have been busy seeking money from private sources. They haven't had much luck.

Now they've gone to state officials, requesting $20 million in Vision Iowa grants. It's a troubling development.
Nice start.

The Press-Citizen does raise some good points, but it would be nice if a newspaper pointed out that the con artists organizers have been promising to raise private money for six years and coming up with nothing.

By the end of the editorial the Press-Citizen completely loses their BS detector by repeating the marketing lies slogans of the con artists organizers:
Without doubt, there will be short-term benefits should building begin, as construction workers and contractors will have to stay and eat somewhere. But an estimated 1.1 million to 1.5 million visitors annually, with an annual economic impact of $185 million?
Do you newspaperpeople really think this project is going to stay on budget and will draw two to three times the number of people who visit Adventureland each year?

The Press-Citizen's wrapup is a bit schizophrenic:
Indeed, if state dollars were the last chunk of the $180 million that organizers needed, we'd call for the funding. The support of private investors and foundations would indicate that the community was being far too cautious. But until that time, too many questions remain, and there's no point in committing good money for a project that so many locals -- and apparently investors -- remain wary of it.
This paragraph doesn't make any sense.

Anybody who would be contributing private money towards the project wouldn't be an investor. This sort of thing is what an investor puts their money towards in the promise of a financial reward down the line. How dumb are these newspaper editors?

And what's with this call for more Iowa taxpayer funding for this project if private contributions start flowing in? What's the level of private commitment necessary before the taxpayers of Iowa have to roll over so this thing can be finished off?

The Press-Citizen was good to raise the issue of "Show Me The Money" concerning the rainforest, but their follow-through is terrible. That's the trouble with newspaper editorial departments: they're a bunch of timid, wimpy-ass, brown-nosing girlymen when it comes to taxpayer-financed con games like the PorkForest. Why is this? (baby voice) Do dey tink da politicians won't like dem anymo if the newspaperpeople rain on their taxpayer-financed parade? (/baby voice)


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

More Comments

There are some interesting comments following the Corvis post from yesterday which I'll address here.

The Englert's original restoration budget was $2 million and it was hoped to be completed by summer 2001. It ended up being $5.2 million and December 2004.

I would considering applying the same scale to the current Rainforest numbers for a more realistic projection, especially because so much taxpayer money is involved.

Unlike the Englert, which I personally contributed money and time to see it restored, I don't see anybody contributing their own money to get the Rainforest built - at least not willfully.

And the "break-even" attendance figures that Oman cites for the Rainforest, averaging out to between 3500 to 4000 a day, are simply unrealistic.

Adventureland, which will be open 114 days in 2005, had appx 500,000 people in 2004. That's an average of almost 4400 per day. Adventureland is on the edge of a metro area with nearly half a million people and, ha ha ha, right next to I-80.

I don't know anybody, particularly families, who drive on I-80 without a plan. Maybe there are some vagabonds, transients, bums, and RV owners who do. Let them pay for the Rainforest.

Monday, April 25, 2005

More About The Register Editorial

Corvis writes about Random and my posts concerning the Register's absurd editorial calilng for more taxpayer money to be thrown at the Rainforest.

I hope more bloggers write about this and reference the RSS link to the editorial. Why this link and not the regular old URL on the Register's site? I use a newsreader to check headlines and stories from a number of sources because it's much easier and faster than trying to drill into these newspaper web sites blindly. The newsreader also supplies a Technorati URL to track who is linking up to the story. Here's the Technorati link for the Register's Rainforest editorial (there's a few hours of lag before links start showing up). Surely the Register tracks who is linking to and commenting on their news and opinion pieces.

The Register Board

apparently feels the fake rainforest is a really swell idea that just needs a little more help from folks like us:

A rain forest in Iowa?

It's not as crazy-sounding as it once was, with just over half the money raised for the $180 million Environmental Project in Coralville, including a $50 million federal grant.

Wow. If I didn't know better, I'd presume from this sentence that the project had taken about $50 mill in federal money, and raised the rest from private investors. You know, the old-fashioned fundraisers? What the Register conveniently leaves out is that the rest of the $40 mill is coming from the taxpayers of Iowa, and the EP is applying for another $20 mill in grant money from us. Math isn't my strong suit, but as I see it that will make $60 mill from the people of Iowa (though some of it is in a land grant from Coralville), and $50 mill from the federal government - to which, last I looked, the people of Iowa had contributed their fair share. Amount raised from private investors to date? Zero. Zilch.

Now project developers plan to ask the state for $20 million in assistance, which would be a smart investment, both for the tourism dollars the project will draw and the education benefits it will offer.

Now how the h*ll do you know that? I'm sorry, but as State points out in his post, there's a significant question about some of these funny numbers they keep throwing around. These questions are being raised over and over again by legitimate, thinking individuals, have never been adequately addressed by the project leaders, and are now being completely ignored by our "watchdog" press.

Tourism dollars: as Professor Luxenburg pointed out in March, there's some issues about fuzzy math here:
The first of these concerns the highly speculative and dubious estimates of large numbers of paying visitors to the rain forest on which the running costs of the project will be dependent. David Oman, the project director, assured the audience that the estimates of an annual paid attendance of 1.5 million visitors at $15 for adults and $9 for children were from solid, respectable agencies and that the project could meet expenses even at a most conservative low estimate of 1.3 million. Will Oman and his assistants state publicly and for the record that they will not come to the taxpayers for additional funds if and when those attendance numbers do not materialize? We should not forget the vastly inflated attendance estimates that enabled such other disastrous projects as the Denver Aquarium, the Millennium Dome and the Tampa Aquarium to get the green light.

Professor Johnson compares this with the Henry Doorley Zoo in July of last year - in an editorial in the Register:
"Omaha's adult admission, for numerous attractions, is $9.75. Coralville will charge $15 for a rain forest. Coralville's estimated construction cost: $180 million. Lied Jungle cost $15 million....

Coralville's capital mostly comes from federal, state and local taxpayers. And it's $90 million short. Not a single local benefactor has contributed. More than half of Omaha's attendance comes from "members." And they don't just visit. They finance its zoo projects - before construction begins. Half the Desert Dome's $31.5 million came from one donor."

I commented on the figures back in March of last year:
We are then given a dazzling array of figures: "In Johnson County, tourist spending climbed $51 million over the past five years, to reach $199 million. Josh Schamberger, executive director of the Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the 3,170 tourism-supported jobs pay an average $7.50 a hour, compared to Iowa's minimum wage of $5.15 a hour. The Iowa Environmental/Education Project will create 2,900 "ripple effect" jobs statewide: 1,400 full- and part-time in Johnson County." None of which address the inherent speculativeness in the figures, but rather presuming that "if you build it, they will come."

I'm as big a WP Kinsella fan as the next person, but in this case they have no facts to back up that claim. . . .

The new study on which these people are basing their figures uses "a conservative mid-range attendance scenario of 1.3 million visitors during a stabilized year of operation." That's 3,550+ visitors per day if it were open 365 days per year, down from their prior, apparently not-so-conservative estimate of 1.5 million visitors per year, or 4100 per day. Of course, they still presume that opening year attendance will reach the 1.5 million mark.

Okay, reality check time. The non-profit Denver aquarium cost $93 million to build and opened in 1999. It attracted 1 million visitors during its first year of operation. In Denver, a freaking tourist trap. It went downhill from there, and is now belly-up. What about other rainforests? We keep hearing about the one in Cornwall, England that averages 1.8 million per year, with a local population of 500,000. How about the one in New York which only averages 576,444? Or the fact that the entire Omaha zoo only gets about 1.35 million? Their adjunct rainforest keeps no separate figures. But when the director was asked whether the rainforest itself is self-sustaining, he stifled a laugh and said: "These are very energy- and manpower-intense operations," he said, adding that annual expenses easily can rise to $20 million. "That's where some of these stand-alone aquariums run into problems, is they run into these 200-plus support staffs because they had to put all the management in place, whereas we ... already have to zoo infrastructure that supports it."

This estimate is conservative????? In what universe??? . . . ."

Okay, back to today's editorial:

The problem: There's a lot of competition for the $12 million a year in Iowa's Community Attraction and Tourism program. The 2004 Legislature committed the state to spending a total of $72 million over six years, starting last July 1. All the money for the first budget year, which ends June 30, has been awarded.

Of the $12 million for the next budget year, $5.3 million already is promised to various projects. The largest possible one-year grant is capped at $4 million.

The 13-member Vision Iowa Board, which makes the awards, could start with $4 million for The Environmental Project for next year and earmark the entire $20 million over five years.

Wait a minute: that's the problem? That's the only problem? Is that there might not be enough money in the kitty to ante up yet another $20 million for this thing?????? That the people of Iowa - who have seen court services, police protection, and school funding slashed radically over the past few years because there isn't enough money in the budget to maintain vital services - these people aren't, in your opinion, ponying up enough money toward your pet project? Can you spell offensive?

The driving philosophy of the project, the brainchild of Des Moines businessman Ted Townsend, is to celebrate the environment, including enhancing science education. The 4.5-acre rain forest, which would be enclosed in a 20-story-high, caterpillar-like translucent dome, could be an incredible curiosity for visitors from all over the world. Also planned for the site are a re-created wetland and prairie and a freshwater aquarium. The city of Coralville is building an adjacent hotel and conference center.

The project is expected to attract an estimated 1.1 million to 1.5 million people annually, with an annual economic impact of $185 million, said David Oman, The Environmental Project's executive director.

A $20 million award from the state, through Community Attraction and Tourism dollars would help the project attract corporate and foundation support and perhaps allow groundbreaking as soon as late summer.

Or, better yet, replenish the Vision Iowa program by issuing bonds. That $225 million fund, which also required a local match, helped jump-start major attractions all over Iowa. It was wildly successful economic development - the last grant was given out in December - and could be again.

As for a rain forest in Iowa: Sometimes the unexpected is irresistible.

To the Register board: Did you people actually write this article, or did you just scan in some press release from the Environmental Project? Has the Project invested some of that "fundraising" seed money in Gannett stock? Or are critical thinking skills simply an entirely foreign concept?

I hate to basically duplicate posts, but I can't but concur with everything State said, and more.

Beyond the obvious parroting of the EP party line regarding tourism numbers, please note that the Register editorial inserts this incredibly illogical statement (also likely from the EP promotional materials):
A $20 million award from the state, through Community Attraction and Tourism dollars would help the project attract corporate and foundation support and perhaps allow groundbreaking as soon as late summer.

I see. I presume that's because the other $40 million was just not enough to catch the attention of these ethereal corporate and foundation sponsors? You just need that extra twenty mill just to put those sponsors over the top. Really. Because the EP hasn't had the funding to go out and solicit sponsors on it's own? Oh, wait, that's right. As the Register itself reported, they spent over $600,000 trying to drum up sponsors last year. Well, I'm sure having yet another $20 mill of government money will make all the difference.

Seriously, I've a suggestion: Take their fuzzy numbers, take your resources - paid reporters that I presume were hired to go out and actually investigate stuff - and do the legwork. Just like reporters are supposed to do.

See if the project's projections hold up to close scrutiny. See how other fake rainforests are doing, and comparable ones. Factor in the idea that while Denver and to a lesser extent Omaha are inherently tourist destinations.

Stop passing off product promotional propoganda as an actual editorial.

I dare you.

The Register Bends Over For The Rainforest

I don't even know how to get my head around this ridiculous pile of words by the Des Moines Register's Editorial Board concerning their blind support of the proposed rainforest in Coralville.

The media, at one point in time, used to act as watchdogs when it came to out-of-control projects that were largely or totally funded by taxpayer money. You know what I'm talking about: Mike Wallace going up to some crooked liar, shoving a microphone in his face, and getting the guy all flustered when questions can't be answered in a straight manner.

How times have changed. Today, instead of asking David Oman to come out of his bunker or Ted Townsend to get off of his treadmill to find out what has been happening for the past six years with regard to additional private fundraising for the rainforest, the Register bends over, sticks their fingers in their ears concerning the obvious scam that is the Iowa Child project, and suggests that taxpayers should pony up more dough through Vision Iowa.

Where are the chuckling columnists who would rib Dr Ted Stilwell endlessly over his boneheaded idea that people would be allowed to camp under the dome of the Coralville rainforest for $42 a night?

Where are the pundits who would take former Guv Ray to the woodshed for his obnoxious and elitist attitude towards those who would dare question the rainforest project?

You newspaper people are wimps, sellouts, and phonies.

Go buy a BS detector or at least change the batteries in the one you used to have. You did have a BS detector at one point in your life, didn't you?

Friday, April 22, 2005

OMG, are they serious?

On Friday morning, Random wrote in her blog:
my gut reaction: OMG, are they serious? They applied for more government money without showing any progress on the private donor front? And they expect us stupid Iowans just to look the other way? Yet, I shouldn't be surprised. They've been condescending at best from the beginning.
Great point. I'd enjoy reading a further analysis.

I am still intrigued by Dr Ted Stilwell's acid flashback whereby he suggested that people might want to pay $42 a night to camp out in that rainforest dome thingee.

# 1 - You have to be pretty loony to think that the rainforest is going to be built for only $180 million and that the 4000+ people, on average, per day would shell out $15 a pop in order to make this beast pay for itself over the long term.

# 2 - You have to be even crazier to think that once the thing is built that there would be an appropriate amount of mature staff on hand to let groups camp out under that dome. I mean, shoot, if I got the chance to sleep in a dirty, humid, bug-and-bird infested rainforest, I'd definitely be bringing some cold ones and certainly some spliff. And I'd be peeing all over the rhododendrons in the middle of the night. Maybe even running around naked and beating my chest while chirping like a monkey.

# 3 - You have to be totally insane to get to the place where you've come up with a dollar figure for such an experience. $42 is the price point. You've got to wonder how many hours weeks were spent coming to that figure. They probably called every motel up and down First Avenue in Coralville, got the regular posted room rate that nobody ever pays, avearged it out, and then made it a dollar less.

The thing is that Dr Ted Stilwell was once the Director of the Iowa Department of Education. This is the kind of person put in charge of Iowa's public schools at one time: a complete friggin idiot.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Pitch Your Tent At Rainforest Motel 42

Here are the details from the Des Moines Register concerning the PorkForest's $20 million application to Vision Iowa for desperately needed money:
Developers of a $180 million indoor rain forest project in Coralville plan to seek $20 million from Vision Iowa.

The decision to ask for state money is the first announcement in more than a year indicating how the Environmental Project's board of directors plans to raise the remaining money needed for the project, which would include a 4.5-acre indoor rain forest, a 1.2 million-gallon aquarium and a theater.

Project planners secured a $50 million federal energy grant in January 2004 and have raised a total of $95 million.

Nancy Quellhorst, director of operations for the Environmental Project, said Wednesday the group's draft Vision Iowa request, dated April 5, seeks $20 million over five years. She said the group did not know how Vision Iowa would distribute the money, but it could be $4 million a year.

The Environmental Project must submit its request by July 1.

Meanwhile, the project's director of learning, Ted Stilwill, described the project's educational plan to University of Iowa graduate students Wednesday.

Stilwill said the project will fill a void in training science teachers to compete in the global economy.

"I've watched teachers try really hard, but they didn't have the tools to be effective," said Stilwill, a former director of the Iowa Department of Education and teacher. "We can't afford to let teachers struggle. In today's world, we need a society that is much more literate in science."
It's a floor wax. It's a dessert topping. It's an aquarium. It's an IMAX. It's a tourist attraction. It's an educational trainer center for science teachers.

It's whatever they want it to be - except PAID FOR BY PRIVATE INVESTORS.

Meanwhile, the Iowa City Press-Citizen has a lot more on financing questions:
Coralville Councilor Tom Gill, who has called for progress in 60 days in raising the $90 million still needed, said Stilwell had great ideas. But that's not what concerns him.

"We can't move forward until we know exactly what their financial status is and whether this project is going to go through or not," he said.
And the timeline keeps slipping:
Quellhorst said several months ago the project moved to its third stage of fund-raising by hiring professional development firm Gonser, Gerber, Tinker & Stuhr of Chicago.

She said project officials planned only to move to a professional fund-raiser to fill in the final funding gaps. That means even though project officials haven't announced it, they're expecting enough donors to come through to pay for most of the project.

According to the draft application to Vision Iowa, the project is in conversation with eight Fortune 100 companies, two of which are considering terms and level of participation.

The development firm has successfully helped 95 percent of clients reach fund-raising goals, Quellhorst said, and has dealt with projects of more than $100 million before.

She declined to say how much the project was paying the firm.

Meanwhile, the project's completion timeline continued to loosen. The draft application stated that the project's design team "estimates opening of the project could occur in 2008 or 2009..."

Quellhorst said a 2009 completion wasn't for sure and that with a $180 million project, flux in the timeline was to be expected.

Even though over 80% of the project's current funding is in the form of some taxpayer or deficit-financed money, they're not going to tell us how much we're paying the fundraising firm.

Here's the funniest thing in the Press-Citizen story, buried at the end:
Stilwell, meanwhile, met with University of Iowa students Wednesday in a symposium discussing how the project could help reform and support science education in Iowa.

He said some educational aspects were still conceptual and would change as the project developed. These included computer kiosks that could adapt to fit a person's education level. For school groups, the terminals could fit into a school curriculum or be used for science experiments, measuring light or carbon dioxide levels.

Other possibilities would be a virtual reality space or the option to camp in the rain forest for an estimated $42 a night. A school on the site would be well down the road, Stilwell said.
Camping in the PorkForest for $42 a night... I'm still laughing about that one. Stilwell is going to want to forget that quote. I am going to abuse that bit of mindless verbal stupidity on Stilwell's part FOR-EVAH! You just watch. I'm going to be a roll with that one.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Dear Iowa, Can I Have Another $20 Million Dollars? Love, Rainforest

The Cedar Rapids Gazette has this on the front page of their closed web site:
CORALVILLE, IA - Officials for the $180 million Environmental Project will seek $20 million in Vision Iowa funds for the 4.5-acre indoor rain forest they've proposed, The Gazette reports in a copyrighted story. The request, a joint submission by The Environmental Project and city of Coralville, is expected to be filed by the next deadline, July 1, an application draft examined by the newspaper shows.
I'm sure other newspapers will be on this as the day progresses, but nothing is out there right now.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

It's awful easy for people who have not been participating to have their own opinions about it

From the Sioux City Journal:
City leaders have met several times recently with organizers of The Environmental Project, trying to get a construction timetable for a planned indoor rainforest.

Asked if city leaders were satisfied with what they've learned about the $180 million project, City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said: "I think we're headed in that direction."

The centerpiece of the proposed 4.5-acre project is the rainforest, built under a three-story, translucent dome. The site would stretch three football fields in length and would feature a 1 million-gallon aquarium, a theater and 10 acres of prairie and wetland.

Groundbreaking was expected to start this spring, but organizers say they still are raising funds. About $90 million has been raised, $50 million of it from a federal grant.

"To build something like this from scratch takes a lot of contacts and a lot of promoting," said former Gov. Robert Ray, chairman of the Environmental Project board.

He said the project's executive director, David Oman, has been working night and day.

"It's awful easy for people who have not been participating to have their own opinions about it," Ray said.
Hey, former Governor Ray, why don't you shut up, get Oman out of his bunker, and tell us where the rest of the money is coming from. You've had over 5 1/2 years to get investors. You haven't done jack except promise so many feet of phony blue sky.

We have a right to be skeptical and to speak out, especially since it's our money you're trying to spend on this turkey.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Show Nicholas Johnson The Money

Nicholas Johnson is saying "Show Me The Money" concerning the Iowa PorkForest in this Press-Citizen guest opinion piece today.

David Oman has been repeating the same lines for the past 5 1/2 years. When are the major media in Iowa and the Coralville City Council going to wake the hell up?