Thursday, June 23, 2005

Amateur Hour

From the Press-Citizen this morning:
The leaders of a planned $180 million enclosed rain forest are on the verge of signing a contract with a company to oversee the construction of the project.

According to Nancy Quellhorst, vice president of The Environmental Project, a team of consultants from KUD International would be coordinating diverse aspects of the construction of the 4.5-acre, caterpillar-shaped structure. KUD would be in charge of coordinating everything from financing to design and engineering to actual construction.

"This is a very typical step of a project of this scale," Quellhorst said.

The news even made City Councilor Tom Gill more optimistic about the project. Gill has been critical of the rain forest as it has stalled at $90 million in fund-raising since January 2004. In November, he called on the city to end its relationship with the project if funding was not found in 60 days.

"Things are starting to look up for it," Gill said. "I'm not going to be critical of it, because to be honest with you, they're doing the things that need to be done."
Tom Gill is only about 6 months late with his threat.

I nominate Tom Gill to be the next UN Ambassador from the United States. He obviously has the skillz necessary to suggest action, fail to follow through on it, not hold anybody else accountable, and bend over (or dance) on command. How French of him. What a pussy.

In case you didn't notice, KUD oversees the construction aspects of projects. Yes, they supposedly are involved in financing, but check out some of the projects they've done a little further down this column and you'll see how much they've done in that arena.

Does anybody want to dig David Oman out of his bunker or get Ted Townsend off his treadmill for a minute to ask where the hell the other $90 million is coming from?

It's been almost a year since the Register reported that the PorkForest con-artists spent $611,741 to raise $565,000.

It's been a year and a half since Chuck Grassley came through with $50 million in taxpayer-financed deficit money for this project.

Where's the beef? All I see is pork from my wallet.
Quellhorst said KUD is a subsidiary of Japan-based Kajima Corporation and has had a variety of high-dollar projects on its resume. These include the $118 million Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Calif., and Pacific Bell Park, the home of the San Francisco Giants.

KUD also is in charge of the construction of Biota!, a planned $150 million project in London with an aquarium and a number of animal exhibits, including a rain forest section.

"We were very attracted to an organization that has significant experience in an area very similar to ours," Quellhorst said.

As soon as a contract is signed, which Quellhorst said could happen any day, a team led by KUD consultant John Best will start work overseeing the project. Best is based out of the company's Santa Monica, Calif., offices.

The Long Beach Aquarium Of The Pacific was financed entirely by the City Of Long Beach. There's some detail about the arrangement here:
Construction and start-up funds for the Aquarium came from private revenue bonds that were sold in 1995. While Long Beach’s hotel/motel tax and Port fees provide a guarantee, no tax funds are involved and the bonds will be retired out of operating revenue in seven, 20, and thirty year terms.

In spring 1999, Kajima said that attendance at the LBA had exceeded expectations.

But look what I found (PDF) after 20 seconds of Googling. It's a report from June of 2000 and year-to-date in 2000.

The Long Beach Aquarium appeared to be, financially-speaking, seriously underwater.

And Long Beach is right next to LA, you know. Over 16 million people live in the LA metro area, but the city had a rough go of it in the 1990s thanks to riots and layoffs.

Pac Bell Park cost about $350 million (original estimates were pegged at around $250 million) but was privately financed (although it's located in wealthy San Francisco, a metro area with a population two and a half times that of Iowa). It was the first ballpark built entirely with private financing since Dodger Stadium in 1962!

Biota is being financed by the Zoological Society Of London, a charity. If you read this BBC account of what Biota will be, it sounds like a doppleganger of the Iowa Child project, but with the proper financing.

A reporter needs to ask Kajima what their role was in the financing aspects of these projects. In the Long Beach and Biota projects it appears their role would be quite minimal, but you never know.