Monday, August 07, 2006

Caution: Wide Load, Rain Forest Ahead

The Press-Citizen had an editorial warning for Riverside this morning (August 7):

"Riverside . . . faces some major questions . . .. Those questions include whether to ante up public money for Earthpark's proposed rain forest -- a bet that we would caution any municipality against making."

Editorial, "Riverside's 15 Minutes of Fame Continues,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 7, 2006 (and also available here).

Gregg Hennigan reported, following the August 3 meeting between David Oman and Riverside's City Council, "Earthpark officials said the city carried little risk because city money would not be used." Gregg Hennigan, "Rain Forest Plan Raises Questions in Riverside," The Gazette, August 4, 2006.

This representation by Oman can most charitabily be characterized as "misleading."

(a) He, and the casino, have represented -- without involving the City -- that a hotel/motel tax will be enacted, the money from which will go to the rain forest. (b) They've also suggested that the casino's Foundation, which is supposed to provide a share of casino profits to local projects, such as schools, libraries or swimming pools, will, instead, divert those moneys to the rain forest. (c) There will, presumably, be additional infrastructure costs required by the rain forest (such as roads, water and sewer lines) borne by the City. (d) Speaking of water, has anyone in Riverside explored the potential impact on Riverside's water table, or other sources of water, required by a rain forest (that must be kept humid) and aquarium (that uses 600,000 to 1 million gallons of water)? (e) It's possible that if the rain forest is operated as a Section 501(c)(3) corporation that will remove the land it uses from local property tax rolls. (f) The City is going to be asked to put its reputation for common sense on the line when it is asked by rain forest promoters to support the project's Iowa Values Fund application. (g) And realism requires that at least some thought be given to the alternative scenarios if -- as many economists predict -- the rain forest is unable to attract enough visitor income to maintain a first class attraction:
1. It may remain vacant, a rotting rain forest and drained aquarium with dead fish, as a monument to enthusiasm's triumph over caution.
2. It may be torn down -- very likely at the City's expense.
3. It may continue to be run with a scaled down budget and closed exhibits -- likely producing an ever escalating downward spiral of quality, attendance, and income. Or,
4. Given these alternatives, the City may decide to provide a perpetual subsidy to the rain forest to keep it open.

Given this state of affairs, to say that "city money would not be used" is quite a stretch.

Hopefully, the City of Riverside will take the Press-Citizen's advice.

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