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.