The Southwest Florida Community Foundation has transformed the old downtown train depot while maintaining the site’s heritage. It will be open for public tours Sunday.
Named the Collaboratory, the project is the first of many public-private partnerships City Manager Saeed Kazemi hopes will begin the revitalization of Midtown and the expansion of downtown Fort Myers. The Collaboratory, at 2031 Jackson St., is not only the home base of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation but will hopefully bring together other nonprofits and community members to foster growth and expansion in the area, said Sarah Owen, foundation president and CEO.
Media toured the site Wednesday before a party at Bennett-Hart Park, next to the building on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
“So far what we’ve heard, the building itself fits the need of bringing people together,” Owen said. “What we want to be is careful we don’t prescribe what the building can serve.
“Now we know that the region is facing certain issues; we all know that,” Owen said. “Things around attainable housing, water — those kinds of things, the foundation will continue to work on, but we think with more people coming to the table we’ll have a lot more new ideas, and new thinking will come as well.”
The relocation of the foundation offices to downtown Fort Myers began after the old train depot was left vacant following the move of the Southwest Florida Museum of History to the then-Imaginarium. That led to the creation of the IMAG History & Science Center just east along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
“The depot was going to be sitting vacant,” Owen said. “Whenever you have a community treasure, you don’t want to have it sitting vacant.”
Instead of creating a new footprint, why not use an old one to be sustainable, Owen said.