GRINNELL, Iowa — Central Iowa has been chosen as the site for a massive indoor rain forest and environmental learning center that organizers hope will be as successful as its predecessor in the United Kingdom.
Earthpark will be built on 70 acres of wooded land overlooking Lake Red Rock near Pella and will be modeled after Eden — a similar project in Cornwall that has attracted 8 million visitors annually in its first five years of operation.
"This is going to be one of the world's greatest classrooms and through that classroom, our citizens and particularly our young people can learn stewardship," said David Roe, president of Central College in Pella. "It could very well be the salvation of this planet that we all call home."
Earthpark organizers announced their site selection Thursday, ending a review of 16 Iowa communities that vied for the $155 million project. Finalists submitted packages that included the $25 million local funding required by the project's board.
Wind, solar power
Earthpark will feature an indoor rain forest, a 600,000-gallon freshwater aquarium, an exterior prairie and wetland exhibits. The main dome will enclose about four acres and stand more than 150 feet in the air. The park will feature alternative renewable energy systems such as wind and solar power, said David Oman, the project's executive director.
Groundbreaking will begin in 2007 with completion in 2010. Construction is expected to create 500 construction jobs over three years, 150 permanent jobs and generate $130 million of economic activity annually, Oman said.
Earthpark will be designed by Grimshaw Architects, which has offices in London and New York, and was the principal architect on the Eden project.
The 70 acres set aside for Earthpark is part of a larger 240-acre residential, recreational and retail development planned on the lake's north shore. The development will include condominiums, a resort hotel, a restaurant, water park, cabins and a marina.
Earthpark is established as a nonprofit organization run by a 20-person board of retired executives from Meredith Corp., Maytag Corp. and others. The project is the brainchild of Des Moines businessman Ted Townsend.
A Cousteau on board
Board member Philippe Cousteau — the 26-year-old grandson of noted filmmaker and explorer Jacques Cousteau — said Earthpark will help showcase solutions for controlling global climate change.
"What I'm interested in is ensuring that the educational message that comes across from this is not just about raising awareness for people, but about encouraging action and possible solutions to these problems," he said.
In addition to Earthpark's local funding, which will come primarily from a hotel-motel tax in Marion County, the Department of Energy has promised a $50 million grant, and the state is expected to allocate $15 to $20 million.
The remaining amount will come from debt financing, Oman said.
Project background is online at www.earthpark.org.
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