Planning Session Brings Added Debate

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Mound House Mission

The historic Mound House is early in its second year of being open to the public. It recently hosted two long-range planning sessions to map out its future, and the final report produced additional debate.

Lorna Kibbey of Leadership Solutions laid out the results to 20 Mound House stakeholders in Town Council Chambers on Saturday morning, December 10. “About 30 people attended on all-day workshop on November 14,” she explained. “It was a great meeting and pretty awesome; we all learned a lot. Today’s purpose is to put it all together, provide you the results, and list the main categories.”

Museum director Alison Giesen reiterated that a primary Mound House goal is to receive accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums. “This is the highest honor a museum can receive. It means you are a good steward of your collection, and others can trust you to care for items they loan you, so best practices guide everything we do.” Alison pointed out that museums produce roughly $21 billion in annual income, with more visitors than all major theme parks and sporting events combined.

All Roads Lead to Accreditation

Alison cited an excellent best practices example with the perception the Mound House needs more interpretive signage, but it is an archeological site restored back to 1921. “Best practices say you do not litter sight lines with 121 signs because that is not how it looked back then; it is not an accurate interpretation. The goal is to provoke thought and to get the public to return again and again without destroying the historic view-shed. Accreditation is tough but everything we do leads to it because that is how I am wired.”

The long-range planning session, Lorna relates, formulated Alison’s new checklist for success: diverse quality programs to encourage return visits; financial stability; quality docent training, feedback and recognition; effective marketing and branding; strong stakeholders; and attract, recruit and retain qualified staff. These become the standards she will use for future decisions to ensure success, but there is a challenge as well because there is only one Alison, creating a bottleneck due to limited staff resources.

By the end of the original session, participants drew up a working Vision Statement: “The historic Mound House Museum complex is a Southwest Florida cultural jewel, treasured as a unique ecotourism destination featuring 2000 years of island life.” The group revised the Mission Statement as well, from “to preserve and interpret 2000 years of cultural and natural history with residents and visitors worldwide” to “preserve and interpret 2000 years of cultural and natural history of Fort Myers Beach,” prompting some to wonder why it does not say Southwest Florida.

Lorna explained that “it is important we identify to guests we are Fort Myers Beach; we own this, are proud of it and want visitors to identify where they are.” Volunteer Susan Grace countered that “visitors have a problem if they don’t know where they are! Remove Fort Myers Beach because it sounds too exclusive.” Her husband Bill echoed “very exclusive! This may be a little town but it is an international island. In our tours we always say Estero Island, never Fort Myers Beach – that seems so parochial! This attitude says I don’t belong.”

Council member Anita Cereceda found that interesting: “People do not think of Sanibel as theirs but they do think of Fort Myers Beach that way. By saying it is only ours leaves out a huge amount of people in Lee County and Southwest Florida with ties to Fort Myers Beach.”

These Things are Tough

Lorna offered that “these things are tough; we can pick on every word as we all have different perspectives. It is good we are still having this debate and great you all have the passion to continue this conversation. We are provoking thought to get you to come back again and again – we are fulfilling our mission today!”

She said in the future, redefining of roles is essential because “with our fantastic stakeholders, we can achieve more collectively rather than spinning our wheels. We need cohesion in our marketing and branding; a coordinator to recruit, train and support our volunteers; and to examine existing and future revenue sources like sponsorships, bus tours and artistic programs. We must educate people about the Mound House, to get others as excited about the Mound House as our stakeholders.”

Joanne Shamp, recently appointed to Town Council, reminded participants that “placing a structure on the National Historic Register is in the original vision of this town. Only a few places can qualify and the Mound House is one.” Anita emphasized that “we need to help our historic structures stay viable while understanding that other projects must move forward into the future, and we need to accomplish this in a collegial manner – that is the only way this will work.”

Lorna said that the Mound House “needs more money to get more visitors to get more money – it perpetuates! Remember you have been open for slightly more than one year – what you have accomplished to this point is amazing. This is why this is a long-range planning session – you do not have to accomplish everything overnight!” Joanne thought there are ways to attain leadership without additional finances, suggesting that staff look to identify a “volunteer who will lead all the other volunteers.”

The Next Step

Lorna said that the next step will be to “draft the strategic plan: Alison and I will meet next week to work on that and to get the final plan out to the public. We will form an internal plan as well, to manage the whole process and move forward for up to the next 10 years.”

The Mound House, Estero Island’s oldest standing structure now owned by the Town of Fort Myers Beach, opened November 14, 2015, as a cultural and environmental learning center. It is a unique historic and archeological attraction that sits atop an ancient Calusa Indian shell mound directly on Estero Bay that offers a variety of programs for residents, visitors and school groups.

Mound House admission is $10 for ages 13 & up, $8 for students with IDs, $5 ages 6 to 12, and 5 & under free. It is open May through December Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and January through April from Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Mound House is at 451 Connecticut Street; for information call 239-765-0865 or see www.moundhouse.org.

 

Gary Mooney