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Military museum fears building may be sold

By Staff | May 21, 2020

As many non-profit organizations face financial peril in the wake of restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, a location in Cape Coral full of American history, relics of the past and a gathering spot for our nation’s heroes remains in jeopardy of losing their facility for good.

The Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library has been a center for local veterans to gather where they feel safe and have access to the resources they need.

Already faced with a tough financial situation due to a state-forced temporary closure and a drop in donations, the organization is now facing having to purchase the facility outright or possibly having it sold to a buyer with better financial options.

“If somebody buys this building, I have no idea where we could go,” said founder of the museum, Ralph A. Santillo. “What I’m hoping for is an angel to come in here who wants to put their name on the front of the building and bail us out.”

Before the pandemic, Santillo thought the museum would be able to pick up its $1.5 million option with the owners: Invest in America’s Veterans Foundation Cape Coral, LLC. He says they originally had until May of 2021 to make their decisions but the economic impact of coronavirus has changed things.

That option is now on the table, as the LLC has sent a letter to the museum saying they are in violation of their agreement, he said.

The facility on Leonard Street is currently listed by LandQuest Commercial Real Estate Services for $2.1 million.

“We’re looking at having to take on the sales price now. We have to buy the building,” Santillo said.

The museum has been recognized as an asset to the area, having spearheaded Cape Coral being designated as a Purple Heart City, piloted the veteran banners you see along Cape Coral Parkway and has educated the youth of the region and beyond.

Santillo hope this veteran-rich community can help keep the doors open that double as a gateway to our country’s past.

“There’s got to be a major corporation here that would be proud to have their name on the front of this building and support all we do,” he said.

The museum relies on fundraisers and events to stay afloat. With COVID-19 putting an end to any gatherings of people, Santillo and his staff have not able to generate any money via those crucial functions.

On Monday, the museum will welcome patrons into the building for the first time since the pandemic caused them to close months ago, with a 140-person maximum, to mark Memorial Day.

They will re-open to the public on June 2, but without their popular Tuesday veteran luncheon, which sees large turnouts every week.

“I don’t know how I would live with myself if one of those guys came in here and got sick and passed. That would be difficult to live with,” Santillo said.

It’s not just the museum with tangible history that’s important; it’s the veterans in the community that call the museum home.

The Veterans Foundation, which is run by Santillo and operates out of the museum, assists an average of 800 veterans each year by providing essential services that they require. The foundation equips local vets with PTSD counseling, obtaining military records, transportation, bus passes, gas cards, food distribution, career counseling, job placements, free legal advice and other areas that need attention that are not provided by Veterans Affairs.

“With our doors basically closed, we have no idea where half of these guys are going,” Santillo said. “We get calls every day and we do what we can via phone. Our mission has been and always will be, as long as we are alive here, that we need to help the veterans that desperately need the assistance and have nowhere else to go. There’s a lot of organizations out there, don’t get me wrong, and not to blow our own horn, we’re the only ones that do everything that we do.”

Stepping into the museum is like stepping into a time machine. Relics of past battles, uniforms, flags, and depictions of war time canvas the facility.

The museum features a Purple Heart Exhibit, highlighting Florida’s 360 Purple Heart recipients who died in action since Sept. 11, 2001.

Other exhibits accentuate the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam War and the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars.

Santillo can be reached at 239-910-5699 or at ralph.santillo@veterans-foundation.org.

The public can donate by mailing a check to the museum at 4820 Leonard St. The museum is working to be able to take online donations.

For more information on the museum, visit www.swflmm.org.

Invest in America’s Veterans Foundation Cape Coral, LLC, could not be immediately reached for comment.

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