EnSite is providing its full range of services for The Collaboratory, a public-private initiative between the Southwest Florida Community Foundation and the City of Fort Myers that serves as a vital link between the city’s past and its future. A recreated rail line from Central Avenue to Jackson Street will run through the renovated building to provide an indelible bond to the site’s history as an Atlantic Coast Line railway station from the 1920s to the 1970s and the Southwest Florida Museum of History from the 1980s until 2017.


The Collaboratory is funded through a $10 million New Market Tax Credit deal, a program that assists with economic development in distressed neighborhoods. Connections to the neighboring Bennett-Hart Park and the newly constructed downtown Fort Myers fire station will serve as part of The Collaboratory’s broader nexus between downtown and the traditionally underserved Dunbar community to the east.


The low-impact development is LEED Gold Certified with a Florida-friendly plant palette, a low-volume irrigation design system, recreated wetlands in the form of rain gardens, and permeable pavers. The Collaboratory will be built to have zero water discharge during a 100-year storm, meaning it won’t contribute to flooding during heavy rain.


The renovation of the former train depot building and construction of a 15,000-square-foot addition to house the foundation’s headquarters, office space and community event facilities is designed to foster collaboration and philanthropic work with an emphasis on technology. With that in mind, EnSite is partnering with Florida Power & Light’s SolarNow program to include solar trees — artistic structures that catch the sun to deliver clean, emissions-free energy and provide shade — on the 3-acre property.


The Collaboratory, a name that combines “collaboration” and “laboratory,” is also designed to become a place of incubation and connection. The development has already begun to foster programs to benefit the greater good. It will be, as foundation CEO Sarah Owen calls it, a “game-changer.” The inspiration, ingenuity and indomitable spirit that defined the Fort Myers of yesterday can become the hallmarks of the entire region tomorrow.