Staged within a vast white tent rising from Gulf Bay’s Cap d’Antibes mangrove-fringed property in Pelican Bay, the sixth annual Magic Under the Mangroves gala was declared its largest, most successful ever. The event, which funds 15 percent of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s annual operating budget, drew a gathering of 450 into the heated indoors on a chilly March 4 evening. While enjoying aperitifs, hors d’oeuvres and cheeses provided by restaurateur Tony Ridgway, supporters bid on a vast array of silent auction items including crucial Fund-A-Need possibilities and unique Fund-a-Vet donation opportunities to help the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
Musician J. Robert, favored Conservancy musical entertainer, was on hand all evening as he had been at the event patron party held on Feb. 21 at the Kewaydin Club. Double doors led into a giant dining room — this tent could have accommodated a three-ring circus starring a herd of elephants — with giant flaming cauldrons suspended from above and centerpiece vases of eremeris, yellow pin cushion proteas and red bamboo shaded lanterns designed by the Garden District. Joy Wallace Catering of Miami was back for the fifth year, serving up a full dinner beginning with a first course of savory mini-plates and ending with small desserts served family style. Warm-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies were passed as partygoers departed the event.
Andrew McElwaine, Conservancy president and CEO, launched the evening’s program, introduced event Chairperson Nancy White, thanking event presenters Northern Trust and Gulf Bay and introducing a lineup of others generous with their time and expertise in insuring the success of the Naples-based Conservancy. He also recognized landscape architect Ellin Goetz as the 2010 “Eagle Award” winner, the highest honor the Conservancy bestows upon an individual engaged in environmental protection. Goetz was the key driver behind the successful “Vote Conservation 2002” and “Keep Conservation Collier” in 2006, when a record 82 percent of voters opted to continue funding the County purchase of conservation lands through 2013.
The evening’s highlight was the live auction emceed by Mayor Bill Barnett and NBC-2 anchor Kellie Burns of nine one-of-a-kind items, getaways and travel adventures and coveted packages. Guests bid boldly and often, bringing in more than $100,000 from the live auction. The biggest ticket item was a Miami Dolphins VIP experience for four that elicited a winning bid of $23,000. It didn’t hurt a bit that a long black limo had arrived for the gala filled with Dolphins luminaries.
The fundraiser total rang in at a record-breaking $400,000 net according to Barbara Wilson, Conservancy director of marketing and communications. Ticket prices began at $550 per person.