Naples Botanical Garden receives $5 million gift from Chabrajas

The Asian Gardens in the Naples Botanical Gardens in East Naples is set to open Saturday to the public. Erik Kellar/Special to the Naples Daily News

Photo by ERIK KELLAR // Buy this photo

The Asian Gardens in the Naples Botanical Gardens in East Naples is set to open Saturday to the public. Erik Kellar/Special to the Naples Daily News

In tough economic times, charitable organizations feel the pinch as much as, or more than, other enterprises. There is a reason major donors, in the theatre and elsewhere, are known as "angels."

Now the Naples Botanical Garden (NBG) has been "touched by an angel." The garden announced Friday they have received a commitment for a $5 million gift from NBG board member Eleanor Chabraja and her husband Nicholas Chabraja.

"We're very excited by this," said NBG executive director Brian Holley. "The last few years have been challenging, for us as for many nonprofits. This magnificent gift will allow us to move our building program forward, and help us further our mission to create one of the world's foremost botanical facilities."

The Chabrajas were close friends of former Arthur Andersen chairman Harvey Kapnick and his wife Mary, who led the way both in concept and contributions for building the garden, located at 4820 Bayshore Road, off U.S. 41 in East Naples.

"Eleanor and I made this commitment to help to complete Harvey's vision of building a world-class botanical garden in Naples, Florida. We are really encouraged to see the Garden's spectacular beauty, and the vitality of its programs," said Nick Chabraja.

Eleanor Chabraja added, "We are also pleased to see the active role that Harvey's son Scott and his wife Kathleen are taking in the building of the Garden." The younger Kapnick serves with Eleanor Chabraja on the NBG board of directors, which is chaired by Juliet Sproul.

In commemoration of the Chabrajas' gift, NBG will be naming its future visitor center the Eleanor and Nicholas Chabraja Visitor Center. The facility was designed by architect Ted Flato of Lake/Flato Architects. Located in San Antonio, Texas, Lake/Flato was awarded Architecture Firm of the Year in 2004 by the American Institute of Architects for their leadership in sustainable design.

The design of the new visitor center reflects architect's, the donors', and NBG's commitment to "green" design, and is expected to qualify for LEED Gold Certification when complete. The center will include a café, retail store, auditorium, several gardens, meeting spaces and a variety of visitor amenities. Construction is expected to begin in 2013.

"Eleanor and Nick Chabraja were two of my parents' favorite people — Kathleen and I are deeply moved by their generous investment in the realization of my father's vision," said Scott Kapnick.

Nick Chabraja started as a corporate lawyer, and served as Chief Executive Officer of General Dynamics for 12 years, retiring in 2009. Under his guidance, General Dynamics saw rapid growth, mainly through acquisitions. The defense contractor began with roughly $4 billion in sales and 29,000 employees, and had expanded to $29 billion in sales and 92,900 employees as of 2008.

Chabraja also served as a Special Counsel to the United States House of Representatives in 1992. The Chabrajas split their time between homes in Naples and Lake Forest, Illinois.

Naples Botanical Garden has extensive collections of subtropical and tropical plants from all over the world, with special emphasis on the ecosystems of the 26th degree of latitude, on which Naples and NBG sit. The garden's 170 acres feature cultivated ecosystems of Brazil and the Caribbean, and a "hands-on" interactive children's garden, along with 90 acres of restored natural habitats. Founded in 1993, NBG reopened to the public on November 14, 2009 after an extensive expansion.

Regular hours of operation are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. every day. For more information, call NBG at 239-643-7275, or go online to www.naplesgarden.org.

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