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Chamber mobile center ready for unveiling

May 28, 2013
By BOB PETCHER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The Caravel Airstream trailer that has recently been fully converted into a mobile information center has arrived in the Fort Myers Beach area. It's unveiling party for the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce and donors is set to take place at Fish Tale Marina on Thursday, June 6, from 5 to 7 p.m.

The so-called "Bambi" will be situated at two locations and will provide visitors with directions, information on lodging, attractions, shopping and restaurants. All the program needs now is volunteers to man the station for four-hour shifts, seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Beach Chamber President Bud Nocera traveled to North Georgia in mid-May to aid in the completion of the mechanical part of the project. The Bambi was then transported back to Southwest Florida where it received a vehicle wrap last week. The wrap was designed by local graphic artist Dave Drotleff, who is known for his ads with Nervous Nellies.

Article Photos

This is a photo of the Caravel Airstream trailer that the Chamber purchased on EBay with donations from area businesses. It will be converted into a mobile visitor information center.

"At this point, we need to complete the process of getting approved by the Town of Fort Myers Beach for our temporary use permit," Nocera said.

Due to generous donations and fund-raising, most of the Bambi has been paid for. The wrap cost will come from chamber funds.

"We haven't raised all the money that we need to raise, but we need to get this unit done and on the Beach," said Nocera.

Preferably, the needed volunteers should posses a sound working knowledge of Fort Myers Beach area businesses.

"Our ideal volunteer would also be someone who is retired or semi-retired, who lives on or near the Beach and have a real affection for Fort Myers Beach," he said.

The Bambi - named "Roxie" after recently deceased Fort Myers Beach community leader and businesswoman Roxie Smith- will be outfitted with brochure racks, storage area, table and chairs for a small meeting, dorm-style refrigerator, microwave and a computer monitor for marketing.

"The monitor will be used to possibly promote upcoming events on the Beach, specials offered by Beach Chamber businesses, reservations and such," said Nocera.

"Roxie" will be positioned in parking lots on Old San Carlos Boulevard (between Cheap Beach Stuff and SOBs) and within Santini Marina Plaza. The dual-location mode for the mobile information center is temporary until a second Bambi is funded.

Beach chamber officials will be asking the Town for an ordinance variance to take it between both sites.

Nocera is putting a volunteer training program together, one that will incorporate some elements of the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau.

"I want the volunteers to be very familiar with the accommodations, restaurants, attractions and events that take place on Estero Island and San Carlos Island," he said.

It has taken a year for the Bambi to come to a fruition. Fundraising for a second one will wait until the first center shows its worth.

"We want to show the value of this first mobile information center and get it to where it is operating efficiently," said Nocera. "Then, when we determine that it is time, we will move into the fundraising program for a second one."

The preliminary budget for the initial "Bambi" was set at $30,000. The actual cost will not be too far off that prognosis.

"I would imagine after it is all said and done, it will be in the $32,000 to $33,000 range," Nocera said. "Bringing the chamber of commerce information back to the Beach is important for the chamber and chamber members. It is a function that we feel will be good for our members and Fort Myers Beach.

"It's been an interesting experience and very gratifying to see the community get behind the concept of the project and to all come together to make it happen."

For more information, or to apply as a volunteer, please call Jane Ross at the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce at 454-7500.

The Bambi concept

The visitor information concept was derived when the Beach Chamber Board of Directors developed a strategic plan during a planning retreat in 2011 to create a vision for what the local chamber can be and will be.

The Greater Fort Myers Beach Area Chamber of Commerce originally decided to purchase two used moveable 16-foot trailers, known as "Bambis," and convert them into informational kiosk-style structures "to get visitor information back on the Beach where it belongs," according to Nocera.

The idea was to have volunteer personnel speak with visitors about the assets of Beach area businesses, including restaurant food, hotel reservations and live music on a daily basis.

"Imagine accommodations being able to email the availability and rates on a daily basis and having it appear on a big screen TV in front of the visitors as they are standing there," he said last July.

The chamber launched a website called to give people a chance to contribute financially to the cause.

"This will give anybody that has visited Fort Myers Beach or hopes to visit Fort Myers Beach the ability to go online and help us buy a bambi," Nocera stated last year.

A $12,000 "gift" from Dan Baggot of Southwest Florida Distributing & Publishing in Fort Myers (who has pledged $12,000 a year for five years) was the main contribution.

Bill Barrier, a friend of the chamber president and former Lee VCB cohort who now lives in North Carolina, volunteered to pick up the trailer and gut it for traveling expenses only. Nocera aided Barrier in the interior removal process.

The Beach Chamber collected the remainder of the costs through donations and fundraisers to pay for the clamshell work, expenses and set up the interior with 120-volt wiring, desks, stools, cell phones and a computer monitor.

"There is a way to (show people information via monitors) through ChamberMaster where we are promoting events that are about to happen or a business that is doing a special or happy hour that evening on a rotation basis," he had said.

The Beach Chamber held "Bambi Nights" last fall to drive more area customers on slow Tuesday nights and benefit the chamber by possibly collecting 10 percent of food and beverage sales. There were also 50/50 drawings at each establishment.

"Bambi" is the name of a classic Airstream travel trailer, a streamline aluminum and rivets design from the classic 1930's design.

For more information about the Chamber or the "Buy a Bambi" fundraiser, call 454-7500 or visit website to contribute financially to the cause.



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