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Veterans Foundation buys its Cape building

By Staff | Sep 7, 2017

The building that houses the Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library is now owned by the organization. Invest in America’s Veterans Foundation closed on the purchase last Friday.

Founding president Ralph Santillo said the idea of purchasing the building was hatched more than two years ago when the idea of relocating in Cape Coral was dropped.

“We had to determine where the money was going to come from,” Santillo said. “We also had to determine if we wanted to put the foundation in that debt position. It was a hard decision to take that step.”

It took several months to track down the owner of the building, Cape Coral BRNK, LLC based in California. BRNK acquired the property in a foreclosure transaction several years ago. The foundation is paying the appraised value of $1.8 million for the property, borrowing $2 million because of having to make immediate repairs.

“I’m satisfied with what we paid,” Santillo said. “We’re going to start a building fund to help pay off the mortgage. My goal is to pay it off in 36 months.”

The museum has occupied the building since 2012, filling it with a maze of military memorabilia and artifacts.

“We turned an empty building into a first-class museum, the largest museum in Southwest Florida,” said Santillo. “I think of all the many volunteers, and the good board of directors we have, really too many volunteers to count, who helped us along the way.”

The foundation got into the housing business a couple of years ago, teaming up with real estate and apartment management professionals to acquire housing for veterans. Those same professionals worked to put together the funding to buy the museum building.

“It feels good that we have been able to put something together for this community,” Santillo said. “It is becoming a destination with visitors coming from all over the world.”

Santillo is not resting on his laurels now that the foundation owns the building.

“I want to add on to the front and put in a restaurant and open it to the public,” Santillo said. “I need to reach an agreement with the city which controls the parking lot. I hope they will agree to vacate the lot and give it to the merchants. The city liked the idea when Faith Presbyterian Church wanted to develop the property.”

He has a vision of other amenities for the property as well, like a mini-Vietnam Wall and a park, and hopes to bring them to reality in the next two to three years.