Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Case FOR the PorkForest

No one can put together a persuasive argument like Iowa ex-pat Dave Burge, aka Iowahawk. Today, he has come up with a compelling series of reasons to support the Porkforest, including, for example, this one:
Once completed, the Rainforest is expected to draw millions of yearly visitors from as far as Newton and Muscatine. These visitors will stay at local hotels and eat at local restaurants, leaving generous tips for Iowa City's highly-skilled, highly-educated bellhops and waiters -- 48% of whom have Masters or Doctorate degrees from the University of Iowa. These spendthrift visitors will also pump millions of dollars into the agricultural economy, stopping by local farms to buy a bag of delicious Iowa soybeans. The economic windfall from this non-stop spending will easily offset the tiny number of forecasted farmer-crushings resulting from escaped rainforest boa constrictors.

In the interest of fairness, we need to consider his entire article.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Carol Hunter Is Implausible

Embedded within DMR Editorial Page editor Carol Hunter's column this morning about how perfect the People's Republic Of Portland is this:
When I look at Iowa's recent political landscape, I see mostly solid, earnest types who try to do right by their constituents but would hardly capture the imagination of the nation's youth. Maybe that's why I'm pulling for the implausible Coralville rainforest project. If businessman Ted Townsend and his group succeed, it would send the message that just about anything is possible in Iowa.

Hey, Carol, how much are you willing to donate to make this implausible project happen?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Press-Citizen Questions Fauxscal Conservative Grassley

In today's Iowa City Press-Citizen:
On Friday, the Press-Citizen reported that Sen. Charles Grassley was still supporting a $50 million federal grant for the proposed Coralville rain forest project, even as he called for an across-the-board federal spending freeze to fund Hurricane Katrina relief. In a news conference Wednesday, Grassley said he expected most of the cost cutting to fund the $200 billion in Hurricane Katrina relief (never mind the cost of Hurricane Rita) would come from the fiscal year 2007 federal budget, which Congress will begin hammering out in a few months.

Surely, Grassley, a self-described fiscal conservative and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, understands that in times of national emergency the federal government must sometimes reprioritize its spending, even if the funds in question were appropriated in a past budget.

While Grassley may believe the funds are secure at this time, given the extent of the demands on our federal pocketbook, it would seem to us that nothing is secure. And because the $50 million was first secured by Grassley by folding it into a massive Energy Bill, which drew plenty of fire at the time, it does not surprise us that the appropriation is again under scrutiny.

The feds' post-Katrina scramble for funds -- in addition to the fact that the Coralville City Council has grown increasingly frustrated with missed deadlines, unresolved land-use issues, a change in architects and, last but not least, an inability to make substantial progress in raising the remaining $90 million for the project -- does not bode well for the sprouting of a rain forest in our area.

It is clear that if the the project is to succeed, Executive Director David Oman and his team must provide concrete evidence that substantial progress is being made. Otherwise, it will become increasingly difficult for Grassley and the rain forest's supporters to argue that $50 million in federal funds is not urgently needed elsewhere.

Oman hasn't done jack in the past six years except string everybody along. "We will finish it when we finish it" perfectly describes the arrogance that Oman has repeatedly shown the members of the Coralville City Council, the media, and the taxpayers of the United States of America.

It is time to call Oman's bluff. He's not holding anything.

And we have to keep the pressure on fauxscal conservative Chuck Grassley, one of the biggest Kings Of Pork in the US Senate.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Fauxscal Conservative Chuck Grassley: Rain forest funding OK

So..... Senator Chuck Grassley thought it was "unseemly" to talk about eliminating the Death Tax recently. He also wants either a tax increase or a spending freeze "spread out over seven years" to pay for Katrina rebuilding.

But $50 million in Pure Pork for a Rainforest in Iowa is OK. This is the same Rainforest who hasn't been able to raise a dime of private money over the past six years, whose leader are arrogant jerks when presented with a deadline, and are at least $100 million short of money needed to build the thing but won't show us the money.

Whatever, Senator Grassley, you fauxscal conservative.

From the Iowa City Press-Citizen:
CORALVILLE -- Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, remains committed to funding a $180 million rain forest project and would not withdraw a $50 million federal grant to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief, Grassley's press secretary Beth Pellett confirmed Thursday.

Pellett said she spoke with the senator about the topic, and said Grassley was committed to keeping the federal Department of Energy grant going to The Environmental Project.

While Grassley did propose the idea of an across-the-board spending freeze to fund Katrina relief Wednesday, Pellett said the project was not being targeted.

"He's never brought up the rain forest in helping to pay for Katrina," Pellett said. "It's other people bringing it up to him."

The project involves building a 4.5 acre enclosed rain forest along with a 1 million gallon aquarium and teaching space. It would anchor the Iowa River Landing development, which is under construction southeast of Interstate 80 and First Avenue.

The land still remains in Coralville's hands, however, as project and city officials hammer out the details of a contract defining the conditions of transferring the land. Two city councilors have said they no longer support transferring the land. Councilor John Lundell said he would join them in that stance unless the transfer contract was finished quickly and there was a complete change in the decision-making leadership of the project.

During his news conference Wednesday, Grassley said he expected most of the cost cutting to fund up to $200 billion in Hurricane Katrina relief would come in the fiscal year 2007 budget. That budgeting process will begin in about three months.

But the money was appropriated for the project in fiscal year 2004, with a contract signed between the Department of Energy and the Iowa Child Foundation -- the project's funding agency. David Oman, executive director of the project, said Grassley had challenged Iowa last year to undertake non-traditional projects and said he was glad to see the senator maintain that commitment to stretching the envelope

"The project is well-known, but often times not well understood," he said. "It is very non-traditional, different, nothing like it in the country or even in this hemisphere."

City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said the grant dollars were essential to success in the project.

"They're absolutely critical because that really serves as the foundation for everything that we're working on," he said.

He also disagreed with those who would move money from the project, saying that there was a multitude of projects across the nation that had received federal funding.

"Different people have different opinions," he said. "What one person can term as a waste is obviously not in another particular case. So I think it's unfair to target this one particular project."

Brian Quirke, public information officer for the U.S. Department of Energy, said they've been directed by Congress to provide the $50 million grant for the project to draw on. But he left the door open for members of Congress to change their minds.

"If Congress tells us to do something different, we will accommodate that direction as well," he said.

The only option to get rid of this pork project is to persuade one member of the Coralville City Council to oppose it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Oman Can Keep The $50 Million In Pork For Rainforest

From the Iowa City Press-Citizen:
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Wednesday that an across-the-board freeze of federal spending could help to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief, but the executive director of a planned rain forest project said its federal funds were unlikely to disappear.

"It would require a pretty dramatic reversal," said David Oman, executive director of The Environmental Project.

The $180 million project planned for southeast of Interstate 80 and First Avenue would enclose 4.5 acres of rain forest as well as build a 1 million gallon aquarium and a teaching space.

While an aid program designed to help Katrina could reach $200 billion, Grassley indicated in a conference call with reporters Wednesday that he thought most of the budget re-adjustments to pay for it would come in the 2007 fiscal year. The budgeting process for that year will begin in about three months.

Oman said the $50 million Federal Department of Energy grant going to the Environmental Project was secured three fiscal years earlier -- in the 2004 fiscal year.

He said he wasn't aware of any precedent that would allow the government to recall money budgeted that long ago. He also said the Department of Energy and the Iowa Child Foundation had signed a contract designating the money for the foundation.

"I wouldn't want to speak for the department, but it would be extremely hard to unravel," Oman said.

Coralville Mayor Jim Fausett said should the federal funds be removed, it could be disastrous for the completion of the project.

"I think if that should happen, I think it would probably kill the project," he said. "I don't see how they can continue without that funding."

Fausett said his understanding was that the money had been budgeted and wouldn't be recalled, but he wasn't sure.

"Sure that's a concern, but we're concerned about people in New Orleans," he said.

Oman said the disaster in the Gulf Coast was unprecedented and that it was good the government was planning an unprecedented response.

But Oman also said that in a conversation with Grassley's office Wednesday there was no indication that the federal dollars for the project was on the chopping block to fund Katrina relief.

Plenty of other recent projects are up for consideration for cutting, however, including repealing $24 billion of special projects in the recently passed highway bill and delaying a Medicare prescription drug benefit for a savings of $31 billion.

During his news conference, Grassley said it shouldn't just be up to the President Bush to find ways to fund Katrina relief.

"We've got the power of the purse, and we ought to come up with some ideas of our own," he said.

By the way, Oman, how's the fundraising going? You've been at it for nearly six years.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

So Much For The Deadline

Random had a great post concerning Coralville's inability to enforce their own "deadline" with the PorkForest Board.

Now it's time to put the pressure on the Coralville City Council members who refuse to hold the PorkForest Board to any deadline and who continue to allow this unfunded, partially deficit/taxpayer-financed boondoggle to fester while prime real estate goes undeveloped:

Jim Fausett, Mayor
Phone: 319-351-6338

John Lundell, Council member
Phone: 319-351-1125

John Weihe, Council member
Phone: 319-338-1159

Henry Herwig, Council member
Phone: 319-351-3119

The other two Council members, Tom Gill and Jean Schnake, are already on the record as being against the Rainforest project.

Lundell said he would side against the Rainforest project after the deadline if the conditions weren't met, but so far that hasn't happened.

All Coralville has to do is get one more Council member to decide to use the land for another purpose, then we can be rid of this joke of a project once and for all!!!

Be nice!!!!

The deadline was Tuesday, September 20th, 2005:

Technorati tag: Porkbusters

"We will finish it when we finish it"

That David Oman sure is arrogant.

From the Iowa City Press-Citizen:
There's still no word on whether the group behind the proposed $180 million rain forest project in Coralville will accept the terms of a draft land transfer agreement from the City Council, but some officials say there has been progress.

It's been four weeks since the City Council issued a term sheet outlining the conditions under which it would transfer 22 acres of land to the Environmental Project for its proposed $180 million enclosed rain forest.

The council said at a work session August 23 that it wanted a response within four weeks, or by today. But City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said the deadline was not set in stone.

"The council's point was that they wanted it as soon as possible," Hayworth said, adding that he expects something in writing from project heads this week.

David Oman, Environ-mental Project executive director, declined to identify when his group would respond to the draft.

"We will finish it when we finish it," he said. "There are issues that need additional attention."

Oman would not discuss which portions of the agreement need attention, but he said he feels both his group and the city have shown there is room for compromise.

"We've indicated our willingness to address issues of concern to the city," he said, adding that the document wasn't presented in a "take it or leave it scenario."

Councilor Tom Gill, a vocal opponent of the project, said he's frustrated with the project's progress and the leadership's communication.

"I don't know what they've got," he said. "We're just talking about air. It's just not logical to be talking about something we know nothing about."

Mayor Jim Fausett said he believes the draft has served to focus talks between the city and the Environmental Project.

"I think we're making progress," he said. "I feel good. I feel that both sides are making a real conscious effort."

Fausett said the main issues the city and project leaders must work out are funding and timing, especially after the project hired a new architect in late August.

"I think at this point we really need to meet with the new architect to get a better idea of what's going to be inside," Fausett said, noting that the architect's plans will impact costs and the timeline.

The land transfer agreement draft holds the project to the basic specifications of a 4½-acre enclosed rain forest, a one million gallon aquarium and an outdoor performance venue, among others.

It also would set timeline and fundraising requirements, with all funds and contracts in place six months after the land is transferred. In addition, it would tie strings to a $50 million Department of Energy grant, preventing the project from using the money in a location other than Coralville.

If the requirements are met, the city would transfer the land, which is southeast of Interstate 80 and First Avenue, to the project leaders for $1.

Oman said his group wants to reach an agreement soon.

"It matters to us that this be resolved relatively soon or it will begin to impact our overall calendar," he said.

Gill said he believes the project leaders won't sign the agreement.

"My gut feeling is we probably aren't going to hear anything from them, or they'll want to negotiate," he said.

Probably a good prediction.

Update: A similar piece at the Daily Iowan

Technorati tag: Porkbusters

Monday, September 19, 2005

Deadline? What Deadline?

From the QC Times:
CORALVILLE, Iowa (AP) — City officials are continuing their negotiations for the transfer of 22-acres of land for the construction of an indoor rainforest.

Officials say progress has been made and talks will continue despite the approaching deadline imposed by members of the City Council.

“There have been three meetings and multiple conversations since we got to closure on the architect issue and shared that publicly two weeks ago. More discussions are needed and desired, by both parties,” Environmental Project executive director David Oman said in an e-mail.

City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said he expects a written response in the next week to 10 days.

“The question is whether it will be acceptable or not,” Hayworth said.

City Council members said Aug. 23 they wanted an agreement within four weeks that required The Environmental Project, the group proposing the rain forest, to meet certain requirements to acquire and retain the city-owned site.

Tuesday will mark four weeks since that request, but Hayworth said the city never set an exact date and that talks would continue.
The people of Coralville need to start putting the screws to Kelly Hayworth.

Related: September 20th Deadline.

Technorati tag: Porkbusters

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Welcome Instalanchers!

Welcome Instalanchers! Want some background on the $180 million PorkForest project in Coralville, Iowa?

Start reading the Show Me The Money post from April 2005. Or click on any month's archive.

Related: The Environmental Project official web site


Dear Jennifer

Dear Jennifer,

Don't you think it's a bit unseemly to have your husband want to build that PorkForest with the $50 million in deficit-financed National Debt that Senator Charles Grassley procured for him last year, especially in light of all the money that will be needed to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina?

By the way, where is your husband? We haven't seen him for months. News organizations can never seem to contact him, yet you write a column for the Des Moines Register so we're assuming you know where he is. Coralville has this deadline on Tuesday, or maybe it's not a deadline, concerning a major part of the project. It's kind of important.

Meanwhile, he's supposedly spent years trying to raise money but has nothing to show for it. Has he ever done that to you?

Don't you think that these sorts of delay tactics indicate some sort of underlying issue on the part of your husband? We're curious to know what you think.


The State 29 Gang


Friday, September 02, 2005

Leave rain forests to the tropics

From the Daily Iowan:
As far as ridicule goes, an indoor rain forest in eastern Iowa has proven an inviting target, drawing denunciations and jibes from a variety of sources (this page included), including its hosts in the city of Coralville. City councilors may yet opt to stick with the Iowa Environmental Project - a plan to build a 4.5-acre indoor tropical rain forest, 1 million-gallon aquarium plus a theater and educational facility - but we hope they will finally opt to reverse course before the beleaguered proposal ceases to be funny.

In one sense, the group's Wednesday selection of Grimshaw Architects to oversee the rain forest construction places the project in competent hands: Grimshaw was also in charge of the Eden Project in Cornwall, England, a spectacular series of biodomes that encloses tropical climates and is a model for the Coralville project. Yet while project developers understandably feel that the choice has brought the project one step closer to delivering its dream of the dome, increasingly, that dream seems to be doomed for disaster.

To our minds, the developmental costs of this project do not outweigh the likely benefits. Estimates predict a $180 million price tag for the construction of the dome alone, and despite $50 million in federal funds, delivered thanks to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the project has so far had difficulty clearing the $90 million mark. (The $180 million figure is only an estimate - actual costs are almost always higher.) To say nothing of the land that can't be used for other developments - regardless of our personal feelings on the woes of Dolls, the "gentlemen's club" that found its desired property swallowed up by the project, that establishment had a rather more sound business plan.

Moreover, the project's location just doesn't seem right. Coralville, Iowa? A tropical forest surrounded by cornfields? Even ignoring the joke potential, logistics are a serious concern. The Eden Project was built in an already flourishing tourist area and a warmer climate; in Coralville's case, just imagine the energy bill of a tropical biodome while the air outside is 20 below zero. Worse, the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Neb., already features the 1.5-acre Lied Jungle - not quite the same sort of facility, we admit, but how many indoor rain forests can a single region support?

Promoters of the Coralville rain forest argue that the immense tourist attraction will draw not only Iowans but out-of-staters to the site, thanks to the 30,000 square-foot convention center planned to neighbor the dome. They had best hope so - visitor projections are estimated at more than 1 million per year, nearly a third the population of Iowa. And will organizations from out of state really sit down at their meetings and decide that eastern Iowa is the happening place to be?

Conferences held in this area are already well-accommodated by the UI and Iowa City - and with the nearest major airport (if you can call it that) almost a half hour away in Cedar Rapids. Larger conferences will not warm to the Coralville location when they could take place in metropolitan areas, where numerous prominent attractions lay, not simply one. Unless you would consider Coral Ridge Mall a tourist attraction.

And what about the rain forest's educational benefits? Indeed, a field trip to the tropical rain forest is an atypical and adventurous excursion for Iowa's younger students. But with all the shortages in educational funding, perhaps the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in this educational endeavor could be better spent if invested directly in Iowa's educational facilities: public schools.

With Wal-Mart moving through our city and leaving vast, empty boxes in its wake, we can understand the appeal of a preserved bit of nature. Yet, despite its infusion of pork-barrel largesse and the host city's willingness to let no exotic dancers get in its way, the Iowa Environmental Project will do very little for Coralville and for Iowa when the vast amounts of money being spent are taken into consideration. Imagine the ridicule should Coralville find itself with an abandoned 4.5-acre glass dome to find a use for.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Using the D-Word

From today's Iowa City Press-Citizen:
CORALVILLE -- A proposed $180 million rain forest project is in danger of extinction in Coralville.

The project has been controversial, with leaders saying it will bring 500 construction and 200 permanent jobs, attract 1.1 million to 1.5 million visitors annually and add $187 million to the state every year. But critics have said project leadership has been lacking and question where the final funding from the project will come from.

The $180 million project has been at about the halfway mark on funding since a $50 million Department of Energy grant in January 2004. Oman indicated for the first time Wednesday that the board has considered taking on debt for part of the funding to get the project started and avoid rising construction costs.

"I don't know if we're going to need to take on some debt or not," Oman said. "The board would prefer that we not."

Schnake said that would be a breaking earlier promises from project leaders.

"The commitment all along was that not a shovel would be turned until it was fully funded," she said.

Is this really a surprise?

Take a look at this article from back in December:
Oman also said that in a few months, several million more dollars should come into the project, which reached the halfway mark at $90 million in January.

He said project officials hope want to at least have a ceremonial groundbreaking in mid-2005, even if not all the money is secured. Oman said a groundbreaking could encourage the last of the funding to come through.

"You don't need to have every dollar in the drawer before you ... begin construction," he said.

They have planned all along to begin construction before the project was fully funded.

Want more fun quotes? Try this article:
Quellhorst said the project has $90 million to $10 million from project founder Ted Townsend, $10 million from an energy deal, $20 million in land and infrastructure from Coralville and, most recently, $50 million from the federal Department of Energy earmarked in January 2004.

Oman has said that funding would be coming through in several months.

Quellhorst said project officials continue to work with businesses and individuals for funding and said most of the process involved building trust.

"You really have to do some friend-raising before you can do fund-raising," she said.

Fundraising to fund fundraisers. I think we've got a new tongue-twister.

Or how about this quote from back in July 2004:
"'Without question, you have to have clarity on almost all the financing by the end of this year to unfold the timetable that I talked about for next year,' Oman said. 'In a design-build scenario, you don't have to have everything, every detail, designed when you start work, but you certainly have to have your scope, your budget and a pretty good idea of what you're going to build.'"

Hm. We just switched architects, we're redesigning the thing, and we had . . . oh . . . zero new financing on board by the end of 2004.

I think it's time to wake up and see the iceberg, 'cause this Titanic is about to sink.

Gotta love this morning's editorial by the Press-Citizen, taking no real stance whatsoever:
As David Oman, executive director of The Environment Project, told us in a meeting Wednesday, the project's goal is "inspiring generations to learn from nature."

That lofty goal, however, now appears to be threatened by the more practical concerns of local government.

Oh, so your opinion is that the rainforest is an inspiring project threatened by petty local concerns? Well, maybe not so much:
Why has this project changed architects at such a crucial time in its fund-raising efforts? And will the new plans still match the requirements in the draft land-transfer agreement, which the Coralville City Council has given a make-or-break Sept. 20 deadline? As City Council member Jean Schnake told our reporter, "To me it's just more spin. ... So they've got an architect. They had an architect. They had a project that was supposed to be outstanding." She later added, "How many times can we start over?"

Okay, so you mean it's a boondoggle that's only getting worse and we're better off ditching it. Right?
There is still a chance this project will be completed, and there is little doubt that Grimshaw Architects, if the funds are there, will erect an impressive structure. Either way, our local leaders should be applauded for keeping the public interest at the forefront of their thoughts and deliberations.

I see. The answer is C, all of the above. Way to take a stand. Maybe we should pitch in and buy them this?

"How many times can we start over?"

From this morning's Iowa City Press-Citizen:
A proposed $180 million rain forest project is in danger of extinction in Coralville.

Leaders of The Environmental Project announced Wednesday the hiring of London-based Grimshaw Architects, which was not the city's expressed preference, to design the enclosed 4.5-acre rain forest planned for about 20 acres southeast of Interstate 80 and First Avenue.

The project has been controversial, with leaders saying it will bring 500 construction and 200 permanent jobs, attract 1.1 million to 1.5 million visitors annually and add $187 million to the state every year. But critics have said project leadership has been lacking and question where the final funding from the project will come from.

The selection of an architect led city councilor John Lundell to say Wednesday he will form a majority with councilors Tom Gill and Jean Schnake in removing city support from the project. He said he would not favor transferring city-owned land to the project unless two conditions are met.

"I just think this is one in a long list of issues where they've been unresponsive to our concerns and our suggestions," Lundell said of the selection of Grimshaw. "So I've lost confidence in the leaders of this project to successfully complete this project."Lundell's first demand was that project leaders respond to a draft land transfer contract by the city-set Sept. 20 deadline. The draft agreement would hold project leaders to basic specifications of the project, fund-raising and timeline requirements and stipulations on a $50 million Department of Energy grant.

Environmental Project executive director David Oman said the group was committed to meeting the Sept. 20 deadline so the land could transfer and has met twice with city leaders.

"The project board and the city are clearly interested in resolving issues over the transfer of land," he said. "That's the field of play. It's time to move on it, and we will."

Lundell's second condition was the complete removal and replacement of the project's decision-making leadership. Lundell said that while he thought the original project would be good for Coralville, the present management had proven incapable of moving it forward.

Oman said it would be premature to comment on Lundell's second condition until he heard something from Coralville officials.

But City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said if Lundell forms the third member of a majority, it would be the death of the project in Coralville.

"It's a sad situation," Hayworth said. "I think the project and the concept has been very good. It was a very difficult and far-reaching project to begin with, and I think people's frustrations are coming out now."

Gill said he was pleased to see Lundell take the stance. Gill has called for an end to city support since November.

"I made my decision not to transfer the land, and I'm going to stick with it," he said.

And Schnake said the choice of a new architect would in no way change her stance.

"To me it's just more spin. It's more nothing," Schnake said. "So they've got an architect. They had an architect. They had a program that was supposed to be outstanding.

"How many times can we start over?"

Project leaders dropped Chermayeff, Sollogub and Poole of Boston in June after project architect Peter Sollogub left the company to return to his previous firm, Cambridge Seven Associates in Cambridge, Mass. A letter from Coralville Mayor Jim Fausett sent to the project board members expressed the city's desire to retain Sollogub.

But instead the board voted 19-0 to choose Grimshaw, with director Andrew Whalley heading up the design team.

Oman said Whalley's work on projects such as the Eden Project in Cornwall, England -- a primary inspiration for The Environmental Project -- helped to set Grimshaw apart from the other six firms that had expressed interest.

"If you want to build a world-class project, you need a world-class team," Oman said. "And we're assembling that team."

Hayworth said that Grimshaw was not a bad choice, just that Sollogub, who also is working on a nearby intermodal transportation center for the city, was preferred. Hayworth said Sollogub has plenty of experience with buildings similar to the Environmental Project proposal.

Project leaders met with Hayworth and Fausett on Wednesday morning to explain the decision, Oman said, asking them to communicate the decision to councilors.

"Obviously I was disappointed with their decision," Hayworth said. "There was no question that the city representatives who were involved felt strongly that the existing architectural firm of architect Peter Sollogub was an important face and leader to the project, and I think it's a huge loss to the project."

Oman said the decision of architect should help to rally public support as well as encourage grant funding.

The $180 million project has been at about the halfway mark on funding since a $50 million Department of Energy grant in January 2004. Oman indicated for the first time Wednesday that the board has considered taking on debt for part of the funding to get the project started and avoid rising construction costs.

"I don't know if we're going to need to take on some debt or not," Oman said. "The board would prefer that we not."

Schnake said that would be a breaking earlier promises from project leaders.

"The commitment all along was that not a shovel would be turned until it was fully funded," she said.

While he said it's too early to tell, Whalley also indicated that the design of the project could change. Whalley said Grimshaw's design of the rain forest is going to grow out of considerations of how people should best experience the rain forest, and that could affect the ultimate look of the project. Whatever the final design, Whalley said it was important for these type of projects to be eye-catching.

"It's not just kind of a nice thing to do," he said. "It's necessary for them to survive."

Fausett said it wouldn't have to be the caterpillar-shaped structure that was proposed, as long as it visually was attracting and met minimum size restrictions.

"We have to be involved in whatever changes are made," he said.

As for Lundell, he said even if the rain forest doesn't become a reality in Coralville, he was sure the city could find a great use for the land.

"This is not the end of the road at all, this is just a change in the path," he said. "I'm still very excited that with a little bit of creativity, we will be able to put together a very exciting project down there."

Oman wants to go into debt to get the project started?!?!?!?!

That means Oman isn't raising any money whatsoever!

Come on, Coralville, pull the plug on this disgusting game of String The Taxpayers Along by David Oman!

Update: From the Des Moines Register, this lovely bit at the end of the story:
The rain forest team spent two months looking for an architect. It faced a controversy recently when it terminated its contract with Chermayeff, Sollogub & Poole Inc. in June because Peter Sollogub returned to his previous firm, Cambridge Seven Associates.

At the time, a representative of CSP said the project owed the firm hundreds of thousands of dollars. Oman on Wednesday said lawyers are negotiating over a single Sollogub invoice.

The firm did not return calls Wednesday seeking comment.
That's kind of an important point, don'tcha think?