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America’s Veterans Foundation close to finalizing lease

By Staff | Apr 18, 2011

Invest in America’s Veterans Foundation Chairman Ralph Santillo said the group is close to finalizing a deal that would give them a two-year lease with an option to buy the former Sweetbay supermarket.
Santillo said the group hopes to turn the former supermarket into a full blown military museum, an ambitious project that would require at least $1.5 million for renovations.
Santillo said the deal with Sweetbay is almost complete.
“We have the lease in our hands and there’s still a few things to go over,” Santillo said. “We have our attorney and advisors looking at it. We want to make sure everything is right.”
The group — which as an office on Del Prado Boulevard behind Hooters and next door to Paesano’s in the CRA — has been trying to centrally locate their facilities for a while now.
Museum plans call for a destination that would bare salute to every branch of the armed forces, the wars and to veterans living in Lee County as a resource center.
Santillo said once the paperwork is completed, the group can then embark on its fund-raising plans, which it put on hold until the deal for the property was finalized.
“We’re not going to start any major construction until we get settled in and figure out the first phase,” Santillo said.
Lee Allen, director of Real Estate & Growth Strategy for Sweetbay, could not be reached for comment.
Community Redevelopment Agency Board member and Veterans Foundation Advisor Lou Simmons said a “professional fund-raiser” would be hired to figure out the daunting task of raising $3 million, which would cover renovation and purchase of the building once the lease expires.
Simmons praised Sweetbay, saying the company “bent over backwards” to help the group realize their dream of opening the museum.
Simmons said the group is “serious” about raising the money.
“We want to work this out,” Simmons added.
Santillo described the leases as a “sub-sub-sub lease” that goes back to 1983 and multiple parties.
But after multiple negotiations, Santillo is sure the museum is moving forward.
“This is the end of the road,” Santillo said.