In this past week's Pella Chronicle Ted Townsend is quoted as saying, "I could not be more pleased in Pella, it is more special than Eden." Mike Sullivan, "Earthpark Committee Chooses Pella," The Pella Chronicle, October 9, 2006.
In tomorrow's (October 16) Iowa rain forest Web page update there are links to information about Eden, including, Nicholas Johnson, "Is This Eden? No It's Iowa," September 2, 2006. Pella is many things, but it's tough to make the case that it is "more special than Eden." Eden is in England, not too far from London, and is a tourist destination for the millions who live there. Eden has oceans in both directions (including surfing), centuries-old castles, and many gardens besides the Eden Project.
But there are other problems with Pella. They are addressed, in part, in Nicholas Johnson, "Time to Learn From What Works," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 20, 2006. Among the factors associated with financially successful attractions, I wrote there, is "Logical location. Aquariums do best near oceans; Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Va. The Living History Farms, or Dubuque's Mississippi museum on the banks of that great river, gain significance from their location in Iowa. A rain forest does not."
Another factor is sometimes called "synergy" -- putting an attraction in a location where other attractions, and local qualities and facilities, will tend to attract potential visitors to each other.
About two-thirds of the way down the rain forest Web page is the following:
"There is discussion elsewhere on this page of 'what works' with attractions generally -- including as examples Dubuque's National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, Williamsburg, and the Atlanta aquarium, among others. Another to add to that list is Branson, Missouri. It is a classic example of the advanages of 'synergy' -- with some 100 live shows, a range of hotels and restaurants, and now a new $450 million mall, entertainment and convention center. If the rain forest would work economically anywhere (and it might not), Branson is an example of where it might fit, in an environment in which it becomes one more attraction in a sea of attractions -- unlike virtually any venue in Iowa. Most Iowa attractions have annual attendance in the 30,000-200,000 range. Branson is predicting 7.6 million for 2006."
The Gazette had a feature story today (October 15) regarding another location that happens to have a rain forest of its own (as do a number of American cities). The synergy it offers its rain forest stands in stark contrast to anything that Pella can offer Earthpark. The town is Galveston, Texas. Cindy Cullen Chapman, "Southern charm Galveston is a mix of classic sights, contemporary attractions," The Gazette, October 15 2006. (The following facts are drawn from that article.)
Galveston is not a big metroplex. At 57,000 population it's actually smaller than Iowa City. So what does it have in addition to its rain forest?
Of course, it has hotels, restaurants, sourvenir shops and bars. But it's on the Gulf, which means it has docks with tour boats (for dolphin sitings), and well-maintained public beaches with free parking. It has numerous parks (Stewart Beach, Galveston Island State Park, Big Reef Nature Park, Gulfside Seawolf Park). There are ships to tour, including the 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA, a WWII submarine and destroyer escort.
The downtown area ("Historic Strand Seaport") has Victorian buildings, brick streets, horse drawn carriages, trolley cars, 19 antique shops and 20 art galleries.
And of course there are the museums: Galveston Railroad Museum is the largest railroad museum in the southwest; Texas Seaport Museum; Moody Mansion; 1859 Ashton Villa & Heritage Visitors Center; and the Galveston County Historical Museum.
Among the more contemporary attractions are the Pier 21 Theatre, a 242-acre theme park/educational facility and waterpark, movie theater complex and a bungee jumping facility.
The Galveston Island Municipal Golf Course, one of the top five municipal courses in Texas, is surrounded by the Sydnor Bayou. Magic Carpet Golf offers two 18-hole courses.
And then there's Moody Gardens, the Rainforest Pyramid (Galveston's Earthpark), a 1.5 million-gallon aquarium pyramid, 25 acres of indoor and outdoor gardens, freshwater lagoons, Wasserfest (a waterpark designed for year-round use), and Surfenburg (which has 16 water attractions, uphill water coasters, a lagoon, three beaches, body slides, surf and raft rides).
Do Iowa in general, and Pella in particular, have features and venues that could help attract visitors to an Iowa rain forest -- if it could ever raise enough money to be constructed? Of course. But Pella is not "more special than Eden." Nor can it compete with Galveston -- or dozens of other tourist locations around this country. Nor can its aquarium compete with the nation's leading aquariums.
The rain forest promoters have started reducing the size of their project -- below, I believe, what it would need to be (i.e., "the world's largest") to have a prayer of financial survival in the middle of Iowa. For example, they have now reduced the size of their aquarium to a mere 600,000 gallons. By contrast, one of the nation's newest aquariums, in Atlanta, is 8,000,000 gallons.
There are many things we can do to boost Iowa's economy. But it may be a mistake to talk -- and spend -- as if tourism in general, and the rain forest in particular, are among those we should give high priority.