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South Cape venues thrive as a team

By Staff | Nov 26, 2014

The South Cape Hospitality and Entertainment Associations sprung from the idea of continuing to provide the public with events to enjoy, while promoting the city’s downtown businesses.

“When the city of Cape Coral decided to have the City Council take over the CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency), we knew that they were going to be too busy to do what the CRA used to do,” Shelly LaPaglia, president of the associations and the owner of BackStreets Sports Bar, said.

Charged with encouraging economic growth and improving the quality of life in the South Cape, the CRA board previously organized and oversaw several of the annual events in the downtown area.

She said it once ran the Martini Fest, the International Beer Festival and more.

“We knew that was no longer going to be an option,” LaPaglia said.

So, when several of the South Cape business owners and employees were approached by a CRA member with the idea of working together to take up the torch, they knew it had to be done.

“We said we wanted to continue doing what we’d been doing,” Denise Wood, vice president of the associations and the lounge manager at Cruiser’s Lounge, said. “People were making plans to come.”

“As business owners, we knew what needed to happen to keep business here,” LaPaglia said. “Put events on so people would have something to do and stay here, instead of go to Fort Myers.”

For two years now, the group of business owners and even employees have been working together. About a year and a half ago, they formed the non-profit and picked up the South Cape branding.

“We want to bring attention to all of the unique things we have down here in the South Cape, not just the restaurants and bars, but the privately owned boutiques,” Wood said.

“And improve the life of people here,” she added. “Give them something else to do.”

The sitting board members hail from BackStreets and Cruiser’s, as well as Ciao Wood Fired Pizza & Trattoria, the Dixie Roadhouse, Rack’em Billiards and Tiki Hut Bar & Grill at the Dolphin Key Resort. The board meets every Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. at BackStreets; the meetings are open to the public.

“We welcome anybody that wants to join us and sit in,” LaPaglia said, noting the invitation is open to residents, other area businesses and volunteers. “We’re just six people putting on these events.”

The associations currently have a number of events planned for 2015, including the Best Martini Competition; the International Beer Festival; Red, White & Brew; BaconFest; the Party in Paradise Rum Crawl; the Black Friday Party Crawl and, new this year, the Spooktacular Costume Contest.

Activities are set for Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day, halfway to St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve.

The associations also have a poker run planned, and it takes part in the city’s Bike Nights.

“We’re looking to add more events because the more we can promote this area, the more people are going to come here on vacation and say, ‘Wow,'” LaPaglia said. “That helps economic development.”

However, the group hopes to expand beyond pub crawls and trolley runs.

“We are currently working on something that we haven’t done before,” Wood said.

She explained that the associations are working to put together a “Touch A Truck” event in March at the Southwest Florida Military Museum and Library to bring awareness to fragile X syndrome.

Fragile X syndrome is a genetic condition that causes intellectual disability, behavioral and learning challenges and various physical characteristics, according to the National Fragile X Foundation.

“We don’t want to just be known for the bars and restaurants,” Wood said. “We want to be involved with the community.”

With the creation of the non-profit, the group is aiming to raise funding for another project. The city offers a streetscape program in the South Cape, where the city will improve cracked sidewalks, broken gutters and blighted landscape if the business puts up 75 percent of the funds. The city pays the rest.

“Tons of curbs and sidewalks need to be dug up,” LaPaglia said of the downtown area.

The non-profit funds would be available to businesses wanting to take advantage of the program.

“We just felt like that’s an awful lot of money for someone,” Wood said of the 75 percent required. “Especially if you don’t own that building, if you’re leasing the building.”

The associations hope to have enough money raised next year, where it can start helping the South Cape businesses enter into a contract with the city for the streetscape program.

“Not anyone who sits on the board will be eligible for this donation,” LaPaglia noted.

The end goal is to make the downtown area more enticing.

“We want it to look amazing,” LaPaglia said. “So that when they pull into Cape Coral over the bridge, they see this neat little town.”

“Make it a more walkable atmosphere down here,” Wood added.

Other ideas in the pipeline include bringing taxi stands to the South Cape and getting a single trolley running Friday and Saturday nights. Businesses that want to be a trolley stop would chip in funding.

“People could jump on for a very small fee,” LaPaglia said.

The associations are also in support of a proposal that would allow a handful of South Cape bars and restaurants to stay open until 4 a.m. on the weekends. City Council has yet to vote on the proposal.

“We were told if we do this, people will come,” she said, noting Europeans and visitors from larger cities are shocked at the 2 a.m. cutoff. “So we don’t understand where the opposition is coming from.”

Wood hopes the work of the associations brings more people to the downtown area.

“The more lively your area is, the more likely you are to have people want to live here,” she said. “Our basic thing is to play, stay and live in the South Cape.”

For more information on the South Cape Hospitality and Entertainment Associations, visit online at: www.facebook.com/SouthCapeHospitalityAndEntertainmentAssociations or contact David Delli Paoli at (239) 945-7555.