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.