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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 22, 2017 9 months ago

Match Maker

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An executive who lives by the motto 'if you're not failing, you're not trying' zeroes in on a potentially transformative project for his latest major donation.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

David Lucas, after a long career in retail and real estate development, has been in a constant giveback mode for nearly three decades.

The chairman of Bonita Bay Group, which transformed Bonita Springs from a tiny fishing village into a thriving housing and retail community, among other projects, Lucas is active on at least six boards. He donates significant amounts of money to even more causes.

But like his business career, where, prior to Bonita Bay, he ran Margo's, a chain of women's specialty goods stores, Lucas likes to do one thing above all else: focus. “If someone asks me to support the 'save the koala bears,'” he says, “that's not something I'm probably going to do.”

Lucas instead, has concentrated on education, religious education and the civic and underserved community of Greater Fort Myers and Lee County. Lucas, 70, estimates he and Linda have donated $65 million to groups, organizations and causes since 1989, from the United Way to the Canterbury School in Fort Myers. “I want to be part of improving things and be part of the solution,” says Lucas. “When you are in a position to give, you have to give.”

That's how Lucas treated the Community Foundation's tech hub project when officials from the organization called him about it earlier in 2017. A public-private partnership between the Southwest Florida Community Foundation and Fort Myers, the project revolves around transforming the historic Atlantic Coast Railway station into a 15,000-square-foot facility. That campus will become a second foundation headquarters and a shared space for the community and tenants.

Carolyn Rogers, vice president of development and communications at the foundation, approached Lucas with his penchant for being hyper-focused at the front of her mind. “We knew it had to be something special,” she says.

Lucas agreed it was. First, Lucas says a high-tech incubator for entities striving to find solutions to community issues, like the plans for the tech hub, is a must-have for Fort Myers. Says Lucas: “This can be something that really works for Southwest Florida.”

The $5 million raised in the Lucas-match grant will go toward connecting multiple nonprofits with technology, data and expertise that will enhance what the organizations already do. “This gift is important because it is not for the building but for the work that will happen inside,” says Sarah Owen, foundation president and CEO.

The second reason Lucas responded quickly and positively to the foundation's tech hub pitch stretches back to his business career — where he learned to always have a backup plan. “It's a real risk what they are doing,” says Lucas. “Not everything they are going to try with this is going to succeed. They are going to need a margin of error.”

United Together

A philanthropic spotlight recently shined on David Lucas, when he and his wife, Linda, gave $2.5 million to the Community Foundation of Southwest Florida in Fort Myers.

On another cause, Lucas's giving goes back to 1991. That's when he launched the Alexis de Tocqueville Society of Lee, Hendry and Glades counties, part of the United Way of Lee County. The society, named for Tocqueville's book “Democracy in America,” is comprised of people and couples who have donated at least $10,000 a year.

David and Linda Lucas have personally donated about $7 million to the society and United Way since 1991. He also personally calls — and cajoles — old and potentially new donors every year, targeting half of the 170-member group.


Executive:
Bonita Bay Group chairman David Lucas. Calling himself quasi-retired, Lucas works nearly full time, helping oversee new and current projects at the real estate development firm.
Organization: Southwest Florida Community Foundation, Fort Myers.
Mission: Support the foundation's Collaboratory and Tech Hub project in downtown Fort Myers.
Giveback:
Lucas and his wife, Linda, offered a $2.5 million grant for the project, on the condition the foundation could find donors to match it. The organization met the match goal — with $400,000 to spare.

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