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2020 will underscore exciting changes at the Shell Factory

January 1, 2020
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

The pounding of hammers, the buzz of chainsaws and signs that read "Excuse our Mess" -- 2019 was a year of transformation at the Shell Factory and Nature Park.

Yes, people still came to see the animals, ride the bumper boats and buy shell decorations and jewelry, but the historic attraction was also undergoing a metamorphosis.

"We had an exciting year here. We have introduced so many new attractions and are starting new things," Shell Factory General Manager Anne Sheridan said. "We're in the middle of building two restaurants, which is really exciting, and there are great things to look forward to."

Article Photos

The opening of a classic carousel at a classic price — $1 per ride, has been an exciting change at the end of 2019.


The changes started to occur during the summer months as the former Dolphin Room was being transformed into the Player's Circle Theatre.

The theater, where Broadway-style productions will be performed, was set to open in December, but delays in construction and approvals bumped the first production of the 2019-20 season to Herons Glen.

The theater is now set to officially open on Jan. 7 with the production of "The Dining Room," with other plays continuing until the end of May.

Also coming at the end of the year was the opening of a classic carousel at a classic price -- $1 per ride.

The carousel, which was built in the 1920s, was restored by volunteers at the Shell Factory and will take riders on a path down memory lane.

The Nature Park had some highlights in 2019, including the birth of a new alpaca.

The park also enjoyed high attendance marks in 2019.

Financially, it was another successful year -- indeed a solid decade -- though Sheridan said she couldn't release the final numbers until the end of the year.

Looking ahead, there are two major events set to happen.

One will be the opening of Tommy's, a tiki bar named after the late owner, Tom Cronin.

The other will be the rebranding of Capt'n Fishbones Restaurant into the Southern Grill, designed to be the place to go on the way to the theater.

Opening dates have not yet been announced.

"We are very excited. We want to make this a great family destination for people to come to," Sheridan said. "Not only did we start on fantastic projects in 2019, but we will finalize them in 2020 and we want people to come for more and more, especially the locals. We want them to have a good time when they come here and spend the day."

Events at the attraction will help kick off the new year.

The 2020 event calendar starts on Thursday, Jan. 16, with Bike Night, followed by Gumbo Fest on Sunday, Jan. 26.

Golden Fest will be held, though a date has not been set, and St. Patty's Day will return and is expected to be the biggest one yet, Sheridan said.



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