The Greater Pine Island Chamber of Commerce formally re-opened its doors to the public on Friday, May 4, with an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Chamber President John Paeno was quick to acknowledge all the hard work on the part of the chamber board and volunteers that had made the day possible.
"The Friday the (January) 13th fire was such a blow," he said. "We got through season based in a nice, but small, borrowed RV. This new welcome center is just truly awesome."
Outgoing Mango Queen Melissa Koferl, left, welcomes guests to the Chamber of Commerce’s grand opening at its new welcome center.
Jennifer Jennings, the chamber's administrative assistant, reflected on how much work was required to ready the space for visitors.
"Lee Cankar and I came in on a Saturday and painted, changed out ceiling tiles and installed slot walls," she said. "This worked best for this space so that all brochures are at eye level and there is plenty of room for visitors."
Lee County Commissioner John Manning was on hand to cut the ribbon during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"Pine Island is a truly unique place that everyone visiting Southwest Florida should visit," he said. "The chamber has done a great job of putting trying times behind them and moving forward. This new space will serve them well and I offer them my best wishes and my support."
Buzzy Phillips, one of the chamber's directors, noted how the crisis had made the chamber look at how it was operating.
"We'd been going along the past 5 years or so just doing our thing," he said. "Although the fire was unbelievably upsetting, it resulted in a great opportunity to look at the direction in which we were going and make modifications to improve our services to our members."
When asked if the new space would be a permanent home for the chamber or if they would be rebuilding on the site of the previous welcome center, Phillips answered with a laugh, "I don't know and I don't know. This is a great location. Being on this side of the street means visitors don't have to cross traffic as they come on the island if they want information. But, being the waterfront side, it is more expensive. We have a lot of options we're looking at."
The chamber's next big event is the annual Mango Mania to be held July 21 and 22. The group is in the process of choosing a Mango Queen who will be announced at the May 17 meeting to be held at Coastal Realty.
The Greater Pine Island Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center is located at 4120 Pine Island Road in Matlacha and is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. For more information about the chamber, or to receive a visitor packet, call (239) 283-0888 or email email@example.com.