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Cape officials hail Army Reserve site selection

By Staff | Feb 5, 2011

Cape Coral was selected this week as the home of a future US Army Reserve Center, a move that could solidify the Veterans Investment Zone as the city’s hottest area for future development.
The 37,000-square-foot facility is still awaiting funding from Congress, according one Army Reserve official, but all signs point to Cape Coral being re-branded, in part, as a veteran friendly climate for future business and medical services.
“I think it really creates a synergy for other businesses to pop up around it,” said Chamber of Commerce President Mike Quaintance of the Reserve Center. “It will have an impact that will bring people from the outside into the city to discover what we have to offer in Cape Coral.”
Quaintance said the chamber plans on using the U.S. Reserve Center, and all of the zone, in its advertisement material. He added that military personnel, and installations like the Reserve Center, provide great opportunities for chambers of commerce.
“It’s a whole new market for us,” Quaintance said. “Army bases or military bases … they have unique relationships with the business community.”
The Veterans Investment Zone, or VIZ, as it’s become, is a roughly square mile area around the forthcoming Veterans Administration Clinic, scheduled to open next year.
The city’s Economic Development Office is working on financial incentives for developers to make the area even more attractive, though those incentives are not limited only to the VIZ.
Grubb and Ellis is already looking to build “Patriot Plaza”, a 220,000-square-foot facility with medical, retail and hotel components, in the zone. They hope to get more than $1.5 million in returns over 15 years once completed.
The new Reserve Center is set to be constructed on 15 acres of land across from the new VA Clinic, and will include the 37,500-square-foot training building, a 7,650-square-foot vehicle maintenance shop, a 1,500-square-foot unheated storage facility and parking for approximately 300 U.S. Army Reserve personnel.
The VA Clinic and Reserve Center will be joining Hope Hospice, which has been in the VIZ before it was so designated.
Hope Hospice opened its facility in 2001, according to Hope Hospice CEO Samira Beckwith.
If all goes according to plan and the VIZ does continue to develop, then the Hope Hospice facility, which has sat alone on Diplomat Parkway for a decade, could have a bunch of new neighbors.
“We’ve been in the neighborhood for a while, we just haven’t had any neighbors,” Beckwith said.
Hope Hospice has long had a relationship with veterans, so the the VA Clinic and now the Reserve Center are welcome sights, Beckwith said.
Hope Hospice has its “VALOR” program, which was developed to provide respect and support for veterans, as nearly 25 percent of all served by Hope Hospice are now military veterans.
“We’ve understood the needs of veterans for many years,” she said. “We care for veterans and have had very good relationships with all the VA groups in town.”
Beckwith hopes to see the VIZ continue to grow, as veterans and their families are going to need different kinds of facilities at their nearby disposal.
She said hotels and restaurants, if they materialize within the VIZ, will be a logical development for the area.
“I think it’s a real win-win for the community and for the veterans,” Beckwith added.
Lt. Colonel Maria Quan, an information officer for the U.S. Army Reserve, said the “tentative place” approval was in place to build the reserve, although they still needed to await a fiscal year construction appropriation bill to be approved by Congress before work can begin.
Lt. Col. Quan said the new facility will house two units, Quarter Master and Engineer companies, which would total roughly 266 soldiers.
If a large number of reservists are living in a specific area, Lt. Col. Quan said the U.S. Army then goes “looking for a site”, after that need is identified.
She said the U.S. Army Reserves feeds the criteria for a site to the Army Corp of Engineers, which then tries to accommodate those needs.
“The Army Corp of Engineers sort of acts as the real estate agent for the Army,” she said. “We give them the number of people, and the size we think we need, and the Corp goes into that region to fit the bill of the location we need.”
America’s Veterans Foundation is a local non-profit group that tries to serve, and unite, the some 17,000 veterans living in the greater Lee County area.
Founder Ralph Santillo said the new Reserve Center would be a “big boost” for the city that already boasts 10,000 or so of its own veterans.
“When you think about it … we all came down here to retire or semi-retire, hang out a bit,” Santillo said. “So it’s logical we have that many vets in the area.”
Santillo and his group are working on a military museum concept in the downtown Community Redevelopment Agency District, housed in the former Sweetbay Supermarket building.
He said it would be crucial for the city or the chamber of commerce to find a way to use the large veteran presence in their advertising campaigns, letting it be known that a large, untapped workforce is here to go along with the facilities like the VA Clinic and the new Reserve Center.
He said he wants Cape Coral and Lee County to be a veterans and military destination.
“We’re also trying to make people aware that a lot of veterans live around them, and some of these vets are very capable of handling jobs, of being a major presence in Cape Coral,” Santillo said. “They’re not looking for a hand out, they’re looking for a hand up.”
Christy Vogt, from Cape Coral’s Economic Development Office, said her office is not at all surprised the large military and veteran presence in the city.
They have and will be taken into consideration, as the city continues to rebrand itself with a veteran focused economy, especially in the VIZ.
“The veterans and military groups are part of our marketing audience due to the skills and training for higher level jobs that we want to continue bringing here,” Vogt said.