Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Majority Opposition In Coralville

A reader points us to this nugget in the Cedar Rapids Gazette:
City Council member John Lundell said today he will no longer support a proposed simulated rain forest unless there is a complete change in project leadership.

Lundell's decision means the majority of the city's five-member council are opposed to the project.

"I've now lost complete confidence in the Environmental Project's ability to complete the project," Lundell said today. "Unless there is a complete change in leadership, I will not be supporting the project."

Lundell said he still believes in the concept of the rain forest, but said The Environmental Project has enough time to make progress.

"It's just too bad they have been incapable of moving it forward," Lundell said.

Lundell now appears to join council members Tom Gill and Jean Schnake, who want the city to find another use for the land the city planned to give the rain forest.

Lundell's announcement came the same day The Environmental Project announced the hiring of a world-class architect who not only will design a prime facility but will help build donor confidence for the $180 million project.

Grimshaw Architects, of London, with offices in New York, is the pick, Environmental Project Board Chairman Robert Ray and other project officials announced.

"This is a red-letter day for us," project executive director David Oman said. "It's a significant announcement."

Andrew Whalley, head of Grimshaw's New York office, will redesign what had been billed as a 20-story indoor rain forest. Whalley, 43, said he won't be starting from scratch but will create an entirely new building design.

His selection, made by The Environmental Project's Board of Directors on a 19-0 vote last Friday, was controversial. Coralville city leaders wanted Peter Sollogub.

Sollogub, of Boston, had done most of the rain forest's design work to date while with the Chermayeff, Sollogub & Poole Inc. firm. But he left that firm. The Environmental Project then terminated its contract with the firm in June.

City leaders say Sollogub and local architects he could partner with have the experience and commitment to the community necessary to design the project.

Environmental Project leaders, who met with various media outlets individually today, had praise for Sollogub but said the project needed a team of designers to move forward with the project.

"It's not about just the lead architect. It's about the team," said board member Ted Stilwell, the project's director of learning.

John Best, the project executive from KUD International LLC managing construction of the rain forest, said, "The project needed to move ahead. And it needed to move ahead with an architect."

Whalley said the Iowa rain forest project is farther along than the most notable indoor environmental attraction worked on was when he joined that project. That was the famous Eden Project in Cornwall, England.

"This is in a much more advanced state and in a much better way," Whalley said.

Plans call for building the rain forest in Coralville Iowa River Landing District just south of Interstate 80 by the Iowa River.

Coralville is building a $58.3 million Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in the district, with an eye toward having the rain forest as the prime draw to the district.

Oman said today's announcement will not change plans to open the rain forest in 2009.

For an update on this story, see Thursday's Gazette.

We have also been told there will also be a similar story in the Iowa City Press-Citizen tomorrow morning.

Welcome British Architects

From the DMR:
Backers of the Coralville rainforest project have hired the architects who designed a similar, successful project in England.

The Environmental Project, the Iowa organization, has hired Grimshaw Architects, which has offices in London, New York and Melbourne.

The firm designed The Eden Project in Cornwall, England.

“We believe Grimshaw will bring an understanding of environmental sustainability that can be found with no other firm in the world,” said David Oman, executive director of the Environmental Project.

"Grimshaw had the best integrated team, had the most remarkable projects – including The Eden Project – and offered significantly lower fees than the competitors.”

Andrew Whalley, who heads Grimshaw's New York office, will lead the work in Iowa. The firm plans to open a Coralville office. It will collaborate with Iowa architecture RDG Planning & Design.

The clock is ticking...

Saturday, August 27, 2005


The Press-Citizen has an op-ed today concerning The Environmental Project.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

And So the Fun Begins

Don't lose faith in rain forest
I was disappointed to read that two Coralville Council members have said they were losing faith in the Iowa Environmental project, think it is not going to be possible to build and we should move on to other things ("Rain forest losing its magic," Aug. 23). It has caused so much discussion, so much dissension and taken so much time to try to make it work. Surely, we can try a little longer and harder to bring it to life in our town?
So, the fact that most people don't like it and it doesn't seem to be going anywhere is a reason to keep going? Huh. Are you also the type of person who gets "just one more" roll of quarters for a losing slot machine because it's "due"?

It has been said that we don't "need" a rain forest in our area. Perhaps that is true. But do we really "need" a new pizza place, or a July 4th parade, or the wonderful Coralville Christmas light displays? These things are desirable and add enjoyment to our lives, but do we really "need" them?
Last I looked, none of these things cost $180 million-plus to build. None of them caused the rest of the country to make fun of us. And the July 4th parade doesn't require 1.8 million visitors a year to be sustainable.

Last September, my husband and I made a trip to England. We had an almost four-hour train trip from London down to the Cornwall area where the Eden Project is located. We spent a large part of one day enjoying Eden. If a similar project could be half as successful here as it is there, it is worth the waiting and the hard work needed to accomplish it.

The Coralville area near Interstate 80 is so much more well traveled and accessible to all. The Eden Project is near two tiny towns in a remote area of Cornwall. Still, the people come by the thousands to tour it. The day we were there (a weekday), they had 4,000 people by noon.

The tourism, the business for the small towns in food, hotels, taxi services etc., has been a boon to their economy. There are museums and lovely gardens to tour in the area (all possibilities here).
Really?! I never realized Cornwall was so much like Iowa. Nothing there but some little towns. Nothing else to draw visitors like, say, an ocean or castles or such. Of course, there's always the remote chance Coralville's tourism could be rejuvenated by the surfing industry, too. Or we could just use our agricultural know-how to make our own Eden a success.

We came home with a renewed enthusiasm for this project. It is interesting for both adults and children. At Eden, they have been holding classes for children in a tent-like structure, but are now building a permanent building for classrooms.

It might be that it will never come to fruition here, but we sincerely hope the effort will be made to try a little longer.

Also, how about giving it a pretty name, rather than the Iowa Environmental Project? I'm thinking Coral Gardens or Iowa Garden Project or (stealing from the British) the Garden of Eden. Anything sounds better than the IEP.
Yep, that's what's wrong with it. The name.

September 20th Deadline

Coralville has set a deadline.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

You've Got Four Weeks, Oman

Coralville's city leaders are also considering whether to scrap the proposed $180 million Iowa Environmental Project plan all together.

"Well, I thought it was a dream that we both shared, but right now, it's gone to that point where we as a city have to move on," said Tom Gill, a council member.

City council members like Gill are frustrated because they want to move forward.

"No ground is going to be broken until the contract is resolved," Gill said.

Gill is concerned over funding for the rain forest.

The rain forest project has received $10 million from Ted Townsend and $50 million from the federal government, but no one really knows how much private funding has been raised, NewsChannel 8 reported.

"The biggest problem with the indoor rain forest is perception. I don't agree with their numbers. I don't agree with their ability to raise money. I don't know what funds have been raised, if any," Gill said.

City leaders hope to make a decision in four weeks.

"It appears at this point not to have a whole lot of potential other than to continue to be a drain on the time and energies on some very talented people," said Jean Schnake, a Coralville council member.

NewsChannel 8 tried to talk with rainforest's project administrator, but he was unavailable.


David Oman never seems to be available for anything.

They've got time to redesign their web site with this sort of gobbledygook:

1. Fossil fuels are expected to be exhausted within 100 years. Imagine 500,000 trees are cut in the rainforest every hour. At least 25% of all modern drugs came from rain forests. Save up to 720 gallons of water monthly by taking baths instead of showers. (Huh?? Don't baths use more water than showers??? - Ed)

2. Almost half of the Earth's original forest cover has been destroyed. As food crops, we use only 7000 of about 75,000 known edible plants. Less than one tenth of one percent of Iowa's native prairies remain. A faucet dripping at a rate of one drop per second wastes 2700 gallons per year. Keep a bottle of water in the fridge instead of tap water and save as much as 300 gallons a month. (Does water magically grow in the fridge?? That's 10 gallons per day! - Ed)

3. One hectare of rainforest may contain over 750 types of trees and over 1500 types of higher plants. Save 300-800 gallons per month by running full loads when washing clothes and dishes. (Purchasing a horizontal axis clothes washer will save you 7000 gallons a year over a conventional top loading machine. - Gov Mint)

Coralville Starting To Play Hardball

From the Des Moines Register:
Some Coralville city leaders are casting doubt on the future of the proposed Iowa Environmental Project, a $180 million indoor rain forest and education center off of Interstate Highway 80.

A lack of concrete details or evidence that private money has been raised is leading some City Council members to say they want Coralville to consider alternatives for the valuable 20 acres, which the city had planned to give to the project. They also question recent squabbles with the project's lead design firm, which was dropped over the summer.

"My feeling would be to just walk away," said Jean Newlin Schnake , a City Council member. "It's time to realize we've done enough. We've tried very hard. We had a dream. We had an awesome project outlined. . . . We've been through counseling; now it's time to go see the divorce lawyers."

Council member John Lundell agreed: "It seems like the last two years I've been on the council, there's been a lot of optimism and promise, but not much reality. We need to move ahead and start looking at other options."

David Oman, project administrator for the Iowa Environmental Project, insisted the project is on track, although he declined to say how much of the $90 million still needed for the project had been raised.

"It's an unorthodox project," Oman said. "A project of this scale can take time. Some people are patient; some are not. We are working as hard and as well as the team knows how to deliver a world-class project to the state."

Coralville Mayor Jim Fausett said that while he still believes in the project, city leaders are frustrated because they want to move forward on development of the fast-growing area. Coralville plans to invest up to $40 million to develop businesses and restaurants on the land surrounding the planned rain forest, which is proposed to be a world-class tourist attraction.

"It's a very trying time right now," Fausett said. "We feel we have to put a timeline on this. If something is not going to be worked out with the environmental project, we need to do something else with this 20 acres of land and continue with this in a way that's acceptable to the community."

Oman said the project's board of directors plan to hire a new design firm in the coming weeks. Project officials terminated a contract with design firm Chermayeff, Sollogub & Poole, Inc. this summer when the lead architect, Peter Sollogub, returned to his previous firm. An architect from Chermayeff, Sollogub & Poole said the company is still owed money by the Iowa Environmental Project.

Oman declined to comment on the matter, saying lawyers are resolving the issue.

But some Coralville leaders said the dispute is adding to speculation that the project is in trouble.

"The city does not feel this is the time to start changing architects in the middle of the project," Fausett said.

In a letter to the Iowa Environmental Project on Tuesday, Fausett urged planners to retain Sollogub and his new firm.

Sollogub, who has designed aquariums and museums around the world, said he still believes in the Iowa project.

"I believe it has legs and really is an extraordinary idea," he said. "When you do something like this that has never been done before, there are going to be turns in the road."

The rain forest project, which is proposed to open in 2008, received a $50 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. According to the latest quarterly report, $1.97 million had been spent from the federal grant as of June 30, leaving $48.03 million.

Jill Kozeny, a spokeswoman in U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley's office, said Grassley has no reason to believe the project won't be completed. But she said the Department of Energy would reclaim grant money for any project that doesn't occur.

Coralville officials earlier this month outlined terms in which the city would turn over the land to the rain forest project. Under the terms, project managers would have to have money in place within six months of signing the deal. Project developers are still negotiating the terms with the city.

Fausett said the city is trying to protect itself.

"We don't want to see five years down the road a project which has failed, and they turn around and sell it to some developer. We have a lot at stake here."

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Coralville Ready To Throw In The Towel?

From the Press-Citizen:
The natives are getting restless in Coralville -- two of five city councilors say they're ready to give up on the Iowa Environmental Project's proposed $180 million indoor rain forest project.

Councilors Jean Newlin Schnake and Tom Gill are concerned that the city has invested too much time and energy without getting much in return.

"It's like we keep following the carrot out there, and once we get there and take a bite, the carrot disappears," Newlin Schnake said.

In an e-mail he sent to a fellow city councilor and the Press-Citizen, Gill wrote he would not support the Iowa Environmental Project plan or a transfer of city land to the project board.

"It is my belief that it is no longer any benefit to the city of Coralville to be associated with the (Iowa Environmental Project)," he wrote. "Quite frankly, people are fed up and want it to go away."

David Oman, executive director of the project, said once the city and the board work out a few issues, such as a proposed contract and selecting a new architect, the councilors can revisit the project and perhaps change their minds.

"We're moving on so many fronts," Oman said. "I expect that we will have an opportunity to talk again soon, and I'll look forward to that."

The Environmental Project has proposed a 4.5-acre indoor rain forest, a 1-million gallon aquarium and an outdoor performance venue to be located on 22 acres southeast of Interstate 80 and First Avenue.

The city said it would sell the land for $1 if the group meets certain guidelines the city described in a contract it discussed at a recent work session.

The contract would require project leaders to maintain it as an indoor rain forest, aquarium and educational facility for 21 years and as a "museum quality" tourist attraction in the years following, or else have ownership revert to the city.

In addition to other requirements, the contract also sets a timeline and fund-raising requirements: After the council approves the agreement, the project board would have six months to fund the project and have construction contracts in place.

The Iowa Environmental Project board still can review the agreement and suggest any revisions before it's signed.

Oman said he doesn't know when the board will address the contract, but it will first work out which of three architectural firms to hire after it ended its contract with the original firm in June.

He expected the architect question would be answered via a phone conference of board members within the next week or two.

Councilors John Weihe and John Lundell said they still could support the project if the board agrees to the contract.

But Lundell said he's become frustrated with the project in his two years on the council.

"If their response is negative to our proposal, then I think that would be the time to look at what else we can use the land for," Lundell said.

Newlin Schnake also told the Press-Citizen she's ready to discuss other possibilities for the land.

"I think it's probably time for us to say we tried, but it doesn't look like it's in the best interest of the community to proceed at this point," she said.

Councilor Henry Herwig said he believes the council needs to have patience.

"It's a difficult project -- it's pretty immense," he said. "But I think it's still worth waiting for."

Herwig likened the project to the St. Louis Arch, saying projects of that scope are hard to pull off.

"But I think it will be a great asset as far as educationally," he said.

Coralville Mayor Jim Fausett said he thinks it's important for the city and board members to sit down and talk about expectations for the project.

"The city cannot sit on this land for another couple years or so," he said. "I still feel very confident we will be able to work things out, but if not, the city needs to go ahead and decide what we need to do with the area."

This is encouraging to see.

Monday, August 22, 2005

And the Kitchen Sink

The Press-Citizen has this article on the new requirements facing the proposed fake rainforest in Coralville. An interesting excerpt:
Herwig likened the project to the St. Louis Arch, saying projects of that scope are hard to pull off.

It's an interesting comparison, given the Arch apparently attracts 4.1 million visitors per year. However: 1) the cost of building the arch was only 13 million dollars as opposed to our $180 million; 2) the feds kicked in 75% of that figure; 3) It only costs $8 for an adult to go to the top of the arch; and 4) of course, St. Louis is a little bigger than Coralville: St. Louis' population estimate in 2001 was 339,211 and St. Louis County had a population estimate of 1,015,417 residents in 2001. If St. Louis and St. Louis County were to merge, St. Louis would become the nation's 6th most populous city according to the U.S. Census statistics. It has a Six Flags and everything. So maybe it could be a bit more of a tourist destination?

NOTE: to anyone who noticed my brief mental meltdown when I posted Random Mentality stuff here while working on this article - when I've got 12 Explorer windows open to various legal research topics, not to mention three emails, your calendar, Access, two Word documents, I suppose that's what you get. I am normally multitasking queen, but sometimes I get my wires crossed. Sorry!!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Design Firm Switcharoo

From the Iowa City Press-Citizen:
The architects who designed the $180 million indoor rain forest facility from top to bottom have been dropped from the project.

David Oman, executive director of the Iowa Environmental Project, said the board terminated its contract with Chermayeff, Sollogub and Poole of Boston in June after Peter Sollogub left the company to return to his previous firm.

"That created an opportunity for us to step back and revisit the architect relationship," Oman said.

Sollogub, who now works with Cambridge Seven Associates in Cambridge, Mass., said he worked on the rain forest project at Cambridge Seven before he became a partner in Chermayeff, Sollogub and Poole in 1998. The project moved to that firm with him.

Oman said the board was reviewing proposals from three architectural firms and would decide which one to work with "fairly soon."

He declined to provide a more specific timeline, but he said because the project was in its early stages, the architect switch won't put it off schedule or off budget.

"We have a good team of people working on this project, a lot of talent and a lot of good ideas," Oman said. "That thinking, that work is not lost."

Sollogub said Cambridge Seven is one of the three firms vying now for the job.

Peter Chermayeff said his firm was surprised and disappointed to be taken off the project. In fact, he said it's "seeking the assistance of attorneys and reviewing the matter."

Chermayeff said his firm is concerned that it hasn't been paid for the work it already did on the project, which will be located southeast of Interstate 80 and First Avenue.

Still, he said he hopes the project reaches completion.

"We have felt immensely connected not only to the concept and its realization, but its whole long-term future," Chermayeff said. "We're continuing to hope the dreams and aspirations we've all shared for so long will not evaporate."

Oman declined to comment on any legal issues involved in the termination.

Coralville council member Tom Gill said he was unaware of the architectural firm development, but he said whatever the board decides, it has to keep on schedule.

Gill said a contract the council discussed at a work session last week will be enforced. The contract stipulates that the Iowa Environmental Project board has six months to fund the project and have construction contracts in place after the contract with the city is signed, he said.

"If they're going to do anything in Coralville, they have to abide by the contract we've sent them," Gill said.

The contract demands that the Iowa Environmental Project board return the 22 acres of land the city sold it for $1 to house the indoor rain forest, aquarium and outdoor entertainment venue to the city if it fails to meet deadlines or other requirements.

The board will have a chance to review the contract and bring up any concerns or suggestions.

Oman said the board would resolve the architect issue before addressing the contract.

"It's something that the project and city have agreed we want to talk about. We're keen to do it and so are they," he said. "We want to get this (architect) issue resolved first, and then you'll see us move to that."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Welcome Ned Zissou

From the Des Moines Register:
Philippe Cousteau, grandson of the late oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, has been elected to the board of the Coralville rainforest project in Iowa.

The Environmental Project board announced the election this week. Cousteau, 25, spent part of this week in Des Moines meeting with rainforest project founder Ted Townsend and other staffers.

In an interview Wednesday with The Des Moines Register, Cousteau said he had not discussed a financial role with the project, which is still well short of its fundraising goal. Instead, he sees his role as helping make the $180 million rainforest - to be built under a huge enclosure along Interstate Highway 80 - appeal to his generation and be a model of getting people to live in ways that preserve the Earth and its creatures.

"It's the right time," Cousteau said of the Iowa Environmental Project, which will include education programs and research projects. "The status quo isn't working. The environmental movement, in various forms, has been around more than 100 years, and we are still destroying the world that sustains us.

"How can we create a facility that is different than the traditional interactive or wild areas like a zoo?" Cousteau asked.

Cousteau said he is confident that the much-questioned project will succeed, as another Townsend project, the Great Ape Trust of Iowa, has. Cousteau toured the Des Moines ape-research facility Wednesday.

Cousteau, who like many in his family has studied ocean issues with leading scientists, also has a master's degree in history from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He is co-founder and president of EarthEcho International, a nonprofit group dedicated to environmental and conservation education. He also runs a consulting and media development group.

"We're very interested in literacy that leads to action," said Cousteau.

"For a lot of people, environmentalism and conservation mean protecting animals and nature for the sake of protecting animals and nature," he said. But conservation "is really about all living creatures. It's about us as much as it's about apes and beetles."

You've got to laugh at the DMR. They report this stuff and expect us to eat it up. The kid is barely old enough to rent a car in Iowa and his resume is little more than that of a well-primped legacy who's cashing in the chips associated with his last name.

Good work, Phil, or Ned, or whatever your name is.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Strings Attached

The latest from the Press-Citizen:
CORALVILLE -- City councilors got their first look Tuesday night at a first draft of an agreement to put tight stipulations on transferring city land to the planners of a $180 million enclosed rain forest.

The Environmental Project is planned for 22 acres southeast of Interstate 80 and First Avenue and would include a 4.5-acre rain forest, a 1-million gallon aquarium and a venue for outdoor performing arts events.

During Tuesday's work session, the councilors got the rough outline of an agreement that would hold Environmental Project leaders to those promises, among others, in return for the city selling them the 22 acres for only $1.

The agreement still needs to be reviewed by project leaders, who were not present at the work session, and returned to the city with concerns or suggestions.

According to the draft document, the agreement would require project leaders to maintain it as an indoor rain forest, aquarium and educational facility for 21 years and as a "museum quality" tourist attraction in the years following, or else have ownership revert to the city.

The agreement also requires a detailed annual budget submitted to the city until the project opens to the public. It also sets timeline and fund-raising requirements -- after the agreement is approved by the council, the project would have six months to fund the project and have construction contracts in place. A professional fund-raiser also would have to be in place a month after agreement approval.

Finally, the agreement would stipulate that a $50 million federal department of energy grant -- reduced to about $47 million by standard deductions -- could not be transferred to any location other than Coralville for the life of the agreement.

Councilor Tom Gill, who has called on the city to hold the project to fund-raising deadlines, said this was what the city needs to do to ensure the project is completed.

Gee, I feel sorry for anybody living in Coralville. Once they get around to building this thing and it fails, the taxpayers of Coralville are going to be on the hook for a shitload of money. Either that or Coralville will be attaching a new casino to the complex in about 10 years when Tom Arnold is the governor.