Atrium demolition begins, makes way for FineMark National Bank & Trust's new national headquarters
Two orange-vested and hard-hatted crew members had their volunteers in place as about 40 onlookers stood back for the exact opposite of a ceremonial groundbreaking event: A ceremonial destruction event.
The Atrium, the 125,000-square-foot building that had been sitting mostly vacant for years at 8695 College Parkway in Fort Myers, lost its iconic, mid-1970s façade in just a few seconds Monday morning. The building will continue to be dismantled by Honc Destruction over the next 45 days, converted into an empty lot to be redeveloped.
FineMark National Bank & Trust has started a $25 million to $30 million project to build a new, national headquarters for the bank, which has 12 offices.
Joe Catti, president and CEO of FineMark, went from renting the former Blockbuster Video store, just north of the Bell Tower off U.S. 41, to building the current headquarters at 12681 Creekside Lane off Riverwalk Park Boulevard, to purchasing the Atrium site for $5.96 million in September.
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Brenda Stout, a FineMark executive assistant, and Michelle Sammons, an associate vice president and deposit operations specialist, have been with the bank since before it even opened 12 years ago. They each climbed aboard the massive, orange excavators and pulled levers as instructed by the Honc crew members as the machines tore off the labeled sign. It fell to the ground in a heap.
"I used to come here all the time," Sammons said of the building, which had a restaurant, a shoe repair shop and had served for years as a shopping mall. "I couldn't have imagined this at all. I've walked the building many times. I loved it, especially when I got to pull the Atrium sign down."
Stout said she was thrilled to assist.
"My heart was beating very fast," Stout said. "I'm glad I was a part of it."
They are two of about 10 original employees of the bank who have worked for Catti from day one. Finemark since has grown to about 200 employees spread across Southwest Florida, West Palm Beach, Charleston, South Carolina, and Scottsdale, Arizona.
"I thought it was important to have them do it," Catti said. Several other longtime employees also took turns with the demolition. Catti took the last turn with three of his grandchildren.
“It will be modern but traditional and timeless,” Catti said of the new building, which was designed by architect Damon Romanello of Studio+. "I'm extremely pleased."
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Stevens Construction is managing the project, which will consist of a 60,000-square-foot headquarters and an additional, 7,000-square-foot building that will be located on the south side of the property. It will be leased to other businesses.
The headquarters will face the northeast corner of the property.
"I love what I do," said Mark Stevens, president of Stevens Construction. "Every building I do, I get excited about it. I remember as a kid coming to this building in the mid-70s, when it was a mall. The Edison Mall and this, that was it from from Naples to Port Charlotte. There's a lot of history here. This building has had a lot of uses."
Advances in FineMark's homes have mirrored the bank's growth. It began in February 2007 with $36 million in capital to having $179 million in capital and managing and administering just under $4 billion with just under $2 billion in total bank assets.
Gary Tasman of Cushman & Wakefield brokered the sale of the Atrium building from Golden State Ranches LLC.
Barring any severe weather delays, Stevens expected construction to be completed in time for a grand opening in November 2020.
The demolition will cost just under $1 million and will be visible from behind the safety fence from the corner of College Parkway and Winkler Road.
“We will end up recycling roughly more than 90 percent of the building,” said David Mulicka, president of Honc. “It’s certainly on the upper end of the scale of buildings that we’ve done in Lee County.”
Although the ceremonial tear-down of the awning happened at 7:45 a.m., the prep work to reach this point has been ongoing for several weeks.
“Everyone wants to do what we do,” Mulicka said. “We get to break stuff.”
Honc doesn’t just start leveling buildings. The company first “unbuilds” the structure. Mulicka used the analogy of a shoebox to explain. Like unpacking and then flattening a shoebox, everything inside the Atrium had to be removed, first.
“We take what’s existing out of the interior and anything salvageable or recyclable materials,” Mulicka said. “We focus on taking it down to its original structure. Its shell. There can’t be any hazardous materials in there. We just try to reverse engineer the building.”
Once the destruction finishes later this summer, construction will commence.
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Stevens helped Catti identify potential locations for the new building. At one point, they were considering land near the southeast corner of College Parkway and Summerlin Boulevard, but dozing the Atrium ended up making more sense.
“We started doing some due diligence on this site, and we determined that it wasn’t salvageable,” Stevens said. “If we were to try to remodel that building to meet current codes, we would end up spending more money” than tearing it down and building from scratch.
There will be about 30 subcontractors used to complete the building, Stevens said, and up to 150 construction workers on site on any given day until it gets finished.
“This is the largest project we’ve done in Lee County,” Stevens said.
The ceremony lasted about half an hour. Wearing a pink tie and a button-down blue shirt, Catti left the site for work.
"I've got to get back and make sure we have the money to pay for it," he said.
Connect with this reporter: David Dorsey (Facebook), @DavidADorsey (Twitter).