01 Oct CAUSE & EFFECT: Wait, What are You Doing Here?
My husband and I went to high school together, but we were not high school sweethearts. Although we were just one year apart and had mutual friends, we are fairly certain we never spoke a word to each other back in the day.
We now credit that fact as the key to ending up together later in life. Let’s just say we would not have been a good match as our high schools selves.
When we began adult dating, inevitably we would end up invited to weddings of former classmates, or baby showers of mutual family friends and of course we both had class reunions. For the first few years, when we showed up together at an event, acquaintances would give us a double take, pause and then ask one of us, “What are you doing here?” It wasn’t that they weren’t glad to see us, they just weren’t expecting it.
I always find it interesting when I am traveling, I am pretty certain to run into someone I know in the airport and it is always fun to see someone out of context. Last year I bumped into two folks I knew on the street in Manhattan, and of course, almost in unison we exclaimed, “Wait, what are you doing here?”
Over the past 18 months the Southwest Florida Community Foundation has been renovating the historic 1920 Atlantic Coast Line train depot in midtown Fort Myers to create a space we are calling Collaboratory. Five months ago our entire team relocated to temporary space in downtown Fort Myers in order to be closer to the project site and assimilate downtown culture. We had no conference rooms in the short-term offices so we headed out to local coffee shops and businesses for make-shift meeting space.
I can’t tell you how many times in the first few months people would ask me what I was doing downtown all the time. They just weren’t used to running into me there.
And now that the Collaboratory is getting close to completion, neighbors, passersby, and residents are beginning to wonder what is happening inside and out of this midtown jewel. There is no exterior signage that provides any hints and for much of the construction the site has been a hidden behind the green blanket of fencing.
In addition to the renovation, the Foundation in partnership with the City of Fort Myers, is constructing an additional 15,000 square feet of space and creating a 3.5 acre campus.
Which might lead many to ask the team at the Foundation, “Wait, What are you doing here?”
A couple of years ago we began to realize we were outgrowing our existing offices on College Parkway and started the search for a new home. As we were going down all the traditional commercial real estate routes, the City released a request for proposals seeking ideas for the recently vacated Depot. It had been the home of the Southwest Florida History Museum for decades but an innovative merger with the Imaginarium Science Museum to create a combined IMAG left the historic depot without a tenant. With the Foundation’s commitment to sustainability, the ability to renovate an existing space was energizing.
This is where a public/private partnership was born with the City and fueled by 10.5 million dollars in funding through a New Market Tax Credit deal the project was underway.
On Sunday, October 21st we will be hosting a Party in the Park for everyone in the community at Bennett-Hart Park directly in front of Collaboratory at 2330 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Fort Myers. The party will be a celebration, an unveiling and a chance to tour the renovation. The day will provide many ways for residents to participate in the Collaboratory which has been created to be a place and a space that brings people, ideas and funding together to solve our region’s most pressing issues and to capture some of it’s most amazing opportunities. Just as the name implies, it is a space for people to come to together to connect and collaborate.
We can’t answer the question, “What are we doing here?” without you. Join us. I think running into each other will create all kinds of possibilities.
About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 430 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $5.4 million in grants and programs to the community last year. With assets of more than $120 million, it has provided more than $71 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. The Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are now located in the historic ACL Train Depot at Collaboratory in downtown Fort Myers, with satellite offices located on Sanibel Island, in LaBelle (Hendry County). For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit www.floridacommunity.com