The group pushing construction of an indoor rain forest in Coralville has hired an architecture firm to design the facility. Iowa Environmental Project executive director David Oman says they’ve hired Grimshaw Architects, a firm that has offices in London, New York and Melbourne.”These people were the lead architects on the Eden project in Cornwall, England, which is the only other project anywhere in the world similar to what we’re going to build,” Oman says. The Eden project opened in March of 2001, about 270 miles west of London. It features about one-hundred-thousand plants and claims to be the world’s largest greenhouse. “Eden is in the poorest part of the U.K. It’s been a complete economic homerun,” Oman says. About a million people have visited Eden in each of the past four years, and the facility has stimulated “hundreds of millions” in economic activity, according to Oman. “We’re not going to claim that high of a goal, but certainly Iowa needs a destination attraction like the Gateway Arch in St. Louis or perhaps the Space Needle,” Oman says. Oman, who visited the Eden Project with his family a few years ago, says the goal is to open a similar indoor rain forest in Coralville in the spring of 2009. What’s the price tag? “The budget for the project continues as it has been, and that’s in the range of $175 million, $180 million, maybe $185 million,” Oman says. Oman’s group wants an aquarium, virtual reality theaters, and other hands-on educational experiences to be part of the facility. Critics of the project planned in Coralville call it a colossal waste of money. Some call it the “pork” forest in reference to the government grants which have been lined up to pay for much of the construction. Oman says the criticism is expected. “Whenever you look at a different, unorthodox, and certainly big project, you have people who have questions. I certainly understand that,” Oman says. “If we weren’t pushing the envelope, if we weren’t doing something very different, you wouldn’t have those questions.” Oman says Iowans needs to “think big” and he compares the criticism of the rain forest to the volleys lobbed at the Space Needle when it was constructed in Seattle for the 1962 World’s Fair. You can take a look at the indoor rain forest and education center in England that Oman mentioned on-line at www.edenproject.com. The website for Oman’s group is www.theenvironmentalproject.org.
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