Coralville city leaders met by phone Thursday with developers who want to build an indoor rainforest in Iowa. The developers call themselves the “Iowa Environmental Project” and David Oman, the group’s executive director, says his group told Coralville that they’ll start talking with other cities about hosting the project. “We’ve heard from eight or nine communities. Some of them have more than one site that they’re suggesting might work,” Oman says.
The Iowa Environmental Projects board will now examine all those offers and pick the “best site” according to Oman. Oman says Coralville is still welcome to compete to be the home of the Rainforest, but that’s a decision Coralville leaders need to make. According to a statement released by the city, Coralville leaders are refusing to compete against other cities for the Rainforest and will instead look for other development of the land that’s along Interstate-80.
According to Oman, things started unraveling with Coralville over questions about financing for the project.”Mostly the discussion has been around partnering, about control, about financing and appropriate participation. It’s been a protracted discussion, a fair amount of public,” Oman says. “Because of that, a number of other communities have stepped up and the board is pleased to have a number of options to now be considering.”
Des Moines was originally considered as home for the project, and one of the Rainforest’s backers has already spearheaded the opening of the “Great Ape Trust” on the east side of Des Moines as a home for apes and the researchers who work with the animals. Money has always been the biggest hurdle for the Rainforest, and a 50-million dollar federal grant for the project now has a big string — a deadline for fundraising, or the grant will be taken back.
Oman says once a site is picked they’ll be able to quickly line up the money necessary, but may have to borrow a portion of the 180-million dollar cost of the project.