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Shell Factory secures new loan financing

August 1, 2014
By CHUCK?BALLARO ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Despite a parking lot full of cars, one successful event after another, and a solid record of timely loan payments, the Shell Factory hit a stumbling block when it attempted to renew a loan on the property.

A group of supporters have stepped forward to provide a $2.5 million loan.

The money was used to pay off the Shell Factory's previous lender and will also pay for renovations and new attractions, said Rick Tupper marketing director at the Shell Factory.

The group of investors, led by retired banker Michael Geml, formed a limited liability corporation named The Shell Factory Lender LLC, which was brought together solely for the purpose of raising capital.

"It's not only to pay off BB&T, but to infuse some working capital into the organization," Tupper said. "There is no change of ownership or control. All the management is still here. The private placement is just that."

Tupper said their mortgage and other accounts are, and have been, current.

The number and names of the investors cannot be released due to SEC regulations.

Despite double-digit profits last year, the Shell Factory ran into problems this spring after owners Pam and Tom Cronin were unable to pay in full a $1.2 mortgage note "balloon" to lender BB&T Bank and the bank would not renew.

After efforts to find financing with another bank were also unsuccessful, work began to find a private placement group to raise money to pay the loan and provide other capital, culminating in The Shell Factory Lender LLC.

Meanwhile, business has remained strong, with the Shell Factory en route to another profitable year.

"Revenue is up 11.1 percent, which is above our target number, and attendance is up 20 percent over last year," Tupper said. "The restaurant is up 18.6 percent, the stores 8 percent and the nature park up 12.2 percent."

Among the work that has already been done is the renovation of Dog Bones and the Swamp Bar. Captain Fishbones was remodeled and a new zip line was installed in May and has been very successful.

"We've also expanded our fossil museum, which has gone over great, and we'll be opening a fourth free museum, a military museum, next week," Tupper said.

Tupper said there also will be several events, including a back-to-school promotion next weekend, as well as Labor Day and Peace Day events leading up to its big Goldenfest event on Oct. 4, the unofficial kickoff to the tourist season.

"A lot of good things are happening here. We seem to gain market share when other businesses are still struggling," Tupper said. "It revolves around the family-fun environment. We're the No. 1 family attraction in Southwest Florida."

The Shell Factory and Nature Park employs 85 people. The attraction is at 2787 N Tamiami Trail, North Fort Myers.

The Shell Factory is now open Monday-Sunday:

Retail Store hours:10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Capt Fishbones:11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Nature Park:10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Fun Park:11a.m. to 5 p.m.



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