Veterans group plans military museum, complex for Cape’s downtown
The Cape Coral Veterans Foundations has ambitious plans.
They want to turn the soon-to-be former home of the downtown Sweetbay Supermarket into a Military Museum and Library, a veritable attraction that could serve vets as much as it could the city by drawing people to this side of the bridge.
Ralph Santillo, president of the foundation, said the project developed quickly.
Santillo said veterans started dropping off their uniforms and memorabilia soon after the foundation opened its doors in February 2009. The collection grew so quickly, they began running out of room.
Currently, the foundation occupies about 1,300 square feet of office space on Del Prado Boulevard. Should they move into the former Sweetbay, they would suddenly leap to just over 34,000 square feet of space.
“As we grew, we decided we needed a bigger location, something for meaningful for the city and for the veterans,” Santillo said. “I didn’t think we needed something that big, but we’re going to see what happens.”
The project proposes more functions than just a museum and library.
The building also would include a Hall of Honor, dedicated to local veterans; a Military Ballroom that would seat between 150 to 250 guests for banquets and weddings; a theater that would seat more than 100 for live presentations, military films and documentaries produced locally.
Plans also call for a military style Mess Hall restaurant that would provide inexpensive diner foods served cafeteria style.
Santillo said the food would be prepared in a kitchen operated by a well-known culinary school offering Veterans training in the food service industry.
He said he could not name the culinary school yet, but hopes graduates from the school — veterans — would be offered jobs in the industry.
“We asked ourselves, what else can we do? We thought we might as well have a good size kitchen and get vets into the culinary school,” Santillo said.
While the project is still in its planning stages — the Veterans Foundation is working on funding options — Santillo said the museum could become a viable tourist destination for Cape Coral.
With 65,000 veterans in Lee County, Santillo thinks the museum’s success is forgone conclusion.
The most important thing he added, was that the Veterans Foundations isn’t seeking any money from the city or the Community Redevelopment Agency.
“This is something that’s going to be in Cape Coral for a lifetime if we do it right,” Santillo said.
For more information on the Cape Coral Veterans Foundation or their efforts to create the museum and library call Ralph Santillo at 541-8704, or visit their website at www.veterans-foundation.info