New Collaboratory Transforms Rail Depot Into Shared Community Space

Collaboratory: Rails to Renaissance. The Atlantic Coast Line (ACL) Railway depot in downtown Fort Myers delivered passengers, cargo and a new era to Southwest Florida.

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation hosted a public grand opening October 21 to celebrate their new Collaboratory. Located on the corner of Jackson Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard at 2031 Jackson Street in Fort Myers, the Collaboratory is a public-private partnership of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation and the City of Fort Myers. The transformation of the former Atlantic Coast Railway Depot and construction of a new addition creates a 24,000 square-foot campus that includes the Foundation’s regional headquarters and state-of-the-art shared space for the community and tenants.

The celebration included food trucks, live entertainment, free ice cream, games, tours, a blessing of the building and more.  The Collaboratory features vibrant spaces for work, gatherings and special events. In addition, state-of-the-art technology encourages regional collaboration.

Nearly a century later, the Southwest Florida Community of Fort Myers and the City of Fort Myers’ public-private partnership has reinvented the historic depot and added a 13,160-square-foot addition to transform the site into the regional Collaboratory.

The Community Foundation funded the project with a $10 million New Market Tax Credit deal, or NMTC, a program that encourages economic development in distressed neighborhoods. Florida Community Loan Fund provided the NMTC allocation and U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation is an investor on the project. Whitney Hancock Bank provided additional financing. The Atlantic Coast Line railway depot was presented to the city on Feb. 4, 1924, the same year Fort Myers was poised to join the Florida real estate boom of the 1920s. In the face of shrinking revenues, the Seaboard Coast Line (which had merged with ACL) sold its track, discontinued all passenger service into Fort Myers and closed the station in 1971. After sitting empty for a decade, the Southwest Florida Museum of History opened on the site in 1982. In 2015, the museum merged with the Imaginarium Science Center to form Imag, a science and history museum, and in recent years moved physically to the Imaginarium’s site at Cranford Avenue in Fort Myers.

“The City of Fort Myers has a unique identity reflected in its citizens and buildings. The sense of who we are as a community and where we came from helps us inform the path forward and forge new connections, especially through technology. The Collaboratory embraces those ideals, being housed in a significant, historic space while providing technology that will transform how we operate and communicate in our community. Even the fact that the Collaboratory’s new home is the site of a former train station is symbolic – we are a city on the move, a city moving forward.”

“All current building projects in the city, like the Collaboratory, are being designed and built with environmental and economic sustainability in mind. The city has implemented forward-reaching changes to become a smart city to ensure the region’s future vitality.”

-          Saeed Kazemi, P.E., City Manager, City of Fort Myers