While the funding to move the “Earthpark” project ahead is still stalled, the state Transportation Commission has approved money to pave the roadways into the project. Earthpark is a sort of indoor rainforest that has won a $50 million federal grant — but so far backers have been unable to come up with the matching funds.
Stuart Anderson of the Iowa Department of Transportation says the commission approved just under $3 million in what’s called “RISE” funding to the city of Pella for roads to the Earthpark site. But the money does have some strings attached.
“RISE funding can be awarded to the city, or reimburse to the city on this project, once we see a funding plan in place, and once there’s a commitment for the development to happen,” according Anderson.
Anderson says the RISE funding provides 50 percent of what’s needed and the city of Pella has to match the rest. There’ll also be a contingency that if the project doesn’t happen, and RISE funds are spent, the city would have to pay the money back to the DOT.
RISE stands for “Revitalize Iowa’s Sound Economy,” and the funds help build infrastructure for promised businesses that will bring in new jobs or economic development. Anderson says this award is not the norm, but since the Earthpark development is the only component that makes it eligible for funding, it’s the standard practice to stipulate the award is based on the project happening. “But that still is an unusual situation,” Anderson says.
The Transportation Commission also approved a grant of just over $1 million for Cedar Falls to help a national retailer expand. The funding will go toward roadway improvements for a proposed new facility for Target Corporation’s distribution center that will handle the food that’s sent to Target super stores in the midwest.
Anderson says the grant involves the purchase of land and the promise of some new jobs. It would be a 400,000-square-foot cold-storage facility just to the south of the distribution center. The company promises to create 125 new jobs if the new facility is built, and the grant pays for 61 percent of the project.
Estherville won a grant of $322,000 to help with a new bio-energy plant. It’s a proposed 30 million-gallon biodiesel plant by Northern Bioenergy. The grant also allows them to open up another 125 acres of land for future development.
The commission approved default settlement amounts for two projects. The city of Clinton will pay back $722,000 over the Mill Creek Expressway project. Clinton received funding based on creating a certain number of jobs, but failed to reach that amount and a formula determined how much they had to pay back.
Council Bluffs had to pay back $320,000 after a road involved changed ownership. Anderson says the RISE funding can only be used for public road improvements and the road the money was used on became a private roadway and the money had to be paid back.
For more information on the grants, go to the DOT website .