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Wish List: The Expectations Game

To crib a line from Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility. The people below have power, not in a superhero sense, but they have opportunities to greatly enrich the lives of people in Southwest Florida.

So here’s what we hope they do with it.


Kathleen van Bergen (VANESSA ROGERS)Kathleen van Bergen, CEO Philharmonic Center for the Arts

Perhaps the most celebrated new hire ever in our area, Kathleen van Bergen has taken over the most powerful arts organization and made it stronger. The trick was a little bit of humility and a burning desire to widen the umbrella.

But now that she’s made her initial splash, the really tough work happens. She needs to find both a director/curator for the Naples Museum of Art and a music director to lead the Naples Philharmonic. The museum director is especially important as the tumultuous tenures of several recent hires have hampered any momentum.

While van Bergen has sought input from various sources on both positions, the choice ultimately rests on her shoulders. Our expectation is that she’s going to knock both out of the park and, in doing so, set an agenda for continued growth as the Phil enters a new era.


Jim Griffith (VANESSA ROGERS)Jim Griffith, CEO Sidney & Berne Davis Arts Center

Jim Griffith has spent most of the past decade turning a run-down, but beautiful former government building in downtown Fort Myers into a functioning arts center. He’s built a strong base of dedicated partners who put on everything from theater to concerts to film festivals.

But now, thanks to a $650,000 grant from the state, Griffith has the opportunity to greatly improve the center’s scope. The money will be used, along with the matching donation required by the state, to kick-start a $2 million remodel of the second and third floors, opening up classroom and gallery space.

Griffith is getting close to finishing up on his promise to restore the building. Now our expectation is that he continues to build world-class programming to put inside it.


Fabrizio Aielli, wife Ingrid and their dog (VANESSA ROGERS)Fabrizio Aielli, chef/owner Sea Salt and Barbatella

Fabrizio Aielli is the king of shattering expectations. When it was announced he was opening his first restaurant, Sea Salt, in 2009, we were expecting great things. He wound up opening a nationally renowned restaurant in the heart of Naples, with accolades from Esquire to Gourmet and everyone in-between.

Last year, he and his wife, Ingrid, told us they were opening another place just down the street. Our anticipation was of the bated-breath variety. Sure enough, Barbatella delivered yet another hit, with its simple, but playful take on classic Italian fare, fantastic pizzas and, the pièce de résistance, a gelateria that produces some of the best gelato we’ve ever tried.

So we are calling you out for another encore, Maestro Aielli. Now that you’ve spoiled us with two of the best eateries in town, we expect more.


Sarah Owen (CRAIG HILDEBRAND)Sarah Owen, CEO Southwest Florida Community Foundation

In six years as CEO, Sarah Owen completely rebuilt Community Cooperative Ministries from another food pantry and soup kitchen into a streamlined organization that feeds thousands of Lee County residents each day through its mobile food pantries, school backpack programs and a café and market.

So it was no surprise that she was on the short list when the board at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation was looking to bring in new leadership. They needed her fundraising prowess, her organizational rigor and just a jolt of energy that comes from hiring someone of Owen’s caliber.

We expect to see a big jump in the amount of money the foundation can hand out to local organizations and a greater emphasis on lifting up struggling organizations through her leadership.


Lise Sundrla (ERIK KELLAR)Lise Sundrla, executive director Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District

After one of the best winter seasons in years, it’s hard to think of Fifth Avenue South as struggling. But that’s how its inhabitants looked at it just a year ago when they brought in Lise Sundrla from Savannah to help revitalize what had been the epicenter of activity in Naples.

Sundrla has met one of her goals by keeping the vacancy rates low on the street. It seems there’s an endless supply of people waiting to get one of Naples’ premier addresses.

But there is still a lot of work to be done. Whether it’s bringing in some sort of cornerstone business that will generate traffic for the rest of the street or continuing to raise the level of special events that draw crowds, Sundrla and her team need to find a way to create excitement for a street that suddenly seems old compared to its younger competitors in North Naples.

After a year of taking stock and making plans, there should be-we expect-some sort of game-changing idea from Sundrla soon.

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