Fish-Tale Marina Owner Al Durrett is a businessman with a plan.
He has gone from an Ohio car dealership owner to owning three marinas in Southwest Florida to condensing his efforts to one marina and re-developing it into a state-designated "Clean Marina" while becoming a plaza general manager. Then, he concentrated his efforts into charitable contributions and philanthropic endeavors to pay back the community that he loves.
For that, he was named Humanitarian of the Year for 2011 at the Fort Myers Beach Observer/Beach Bulletin Best of the Beach ceremony at Nervous Nellie's Crazy Waterfront Eatery Friday. The humanitarian award will be an honor for all his employees to enjoy.
Fish-Tale Marina Owner Al Durrett (second from left) was honored as the Humanitarian of the Year for 2011 at the Fort Myers Beach Observer/Beach Bulletin Best of the Beach ceremony at Nervous Nellie’s Crazy Waterfront Eatery Friday. He is pictured with Georgia Reinmuth, his wife, Kathy, and Homer Naveja (l to r). Fish-Tale also took home best boat rental, marina and marina supplies.
"I don't know if what I have done consists of getting an award for it, but I've had fun and my employees have helped me do it here at Fish-Tale," he said. "When I ask them to help for a cause or giving something back to the town, I get a 100-percent effort from them. So this award is kind of a recognition of not just me but of everybody that works here at Fish-Tale. I accept this award on behalf of all my employees here."
Durrett was born in Columbus, Ohio. At age 29, he became the owner of a car dealership. After 10 years up north, he bought a condo on Bonita Beach in 1976 and vacationed until 1983 when he sold his business in Ohio and moved to Florida.
"My goal was to get a job for 40 hours per week and play golf. I wound up by accident getting in the marine business," said Durrett, who went to work for Moss Marine selling boats. "That's how I got introduced to the boat business."
After six months at Moss Marine, Durrett shifted back to car sales by working for Devoe Cadillac in Naples. That venture didn't last a year.
"I thought I wanted to get back in the car business," he said. "One day I received a phone call, and George Cassel and I bought Fort Myers Beach Marina in early 1985. Six months later, George and I bought Fish-Tale Marina. Six months after that, we started Naples Boat Mart (dry land sales and service facility).
Durrett said Cassel and he remained partners at Fish-Tale Marina until the late 1980s. That is when their partnership split with Cassel keeping Fort Myers Beach Marina and Durrett taking full control of Fish-Tale Marina and Naples Boat Mart. A year later, Durrett sold the boat mart and concentrated his efforts on Fort Myers Beach.
"I admit I didn't know much about the boat business," he said. "So, I worked seven days a week and didn't get to play any golf for many, many years to learn the business."
He did start hitting the links roughly 10 years ago, but admits to still being part of the Fish-Tale Marina operations seven days a week.
In late 1996, Durrett took on partner William Steere at the marina. Two years later, the shopping plaza that fronted the marina business was for sale, and Durrett encouraged his partner to purchase it. Durrett became general manager of the plaza, which changed names from Villa Santini Plaza to Santini Marina Plaza.
"When we bought Fish-Tale, it was a little mom and pop place. It has grown tremendously," he said. "It was three acres when we first bought it, and we added on five acres in 1988. It took me quite a few years to develop that."
Durrett met his future wife when he ate at Skye's Restaurant, a business that Kathy Durrett previously owned in the plaza. They have been together for close to 15 years now.
"She sold the restaurant and became a full-time employee of Fish-Tale Marina, which allows me to play golf a little bit and enjoy some of the things that I have wanted to do," said Al.
During its re-development stages, Fish-Tale was designated as a "Clean Marina" by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. It was the first local marina to receive such a distinction (in 2003) for protecting the state's waterways through environmental regulations and industry-recognized best management practices by pollution prevention and water resource management. It became the state's 67th honoree out of more than 200 today.
"It's hard to make an old marina a new marina," he said. "This marina was opened in 1958, so it has sort of a historical designation to begin with. It has had only three owners since then. We worked hard with DEP and state and local governments to make Fish-Tale a Clean Marina."
Now that most of the legwork was done, Durrett focused on the "pay it forward" method and began being instrumental in charitable contributions. He also has had his whole marina staff certified in life-saving skills.
"The first 18 years of ownership here at Fish-Tale, I worked every day and didn't have much time to give back to the community. Just in the past eight to 10 years have I had time to give something back in the way of something monetarily," he said. "I've probably spent the past three years more involved than ever before."
That involvement includes Durrett offering his marina and boats to Beach Elementary and Bonita students for educational tours. His long-lasting relationship with the Beach school stems back to a fishing tournament that needed a benefactor. Enter Principal Larry Wood.
"I went to Principal Wood, asked him to let the school be a sponsor of the tournament and asked for a couple of people to help with the organization of it. We became good friends over it," he said. "He gave my wife and I a tour of the school and had lunch with the kids. It was an easy sell."
The Durretts contribute to the Beach school on more than an annual basis.
"I've been a big proponent and backer of Beach Elementary School," said Al. " I think the school is one of the key places on Fort Myers Beach. It's wonderful to know that your kids have a wonderful and safe place to go to get educated."
When he received the Mayor's Special Award Mayor's Special Award for overall contribution at the Town volunteer appreciation dinner in Oct. 2010, Durrett again brought up Beach Elementary.
"I'd like to thank everybody for this award," he said. "Our most precious resources are our kids."
The Fish-Tale Marina owner has been active with business members of the plaza -particularly Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate- in collecting parking lot fees for charitable proceeds at the plaza during special events for other causes. Besides the Beach school, those fund-raising profits have gone to the Coldwell Banker CARES Foundation and the annual "Spirit of the Holidays," a benefit for local children and families who need assistance during the Christmas holiday.
"I like the fact that the neighborhood pitches in for such a good cause when the Holiday Inn has its sand sculpting competitions and other events," he said. "Spirit of the Holidays is a big deal. We enjoy doing that once a year."
Durrett's philanthropic endeavors include hosting "Paint the Beach" and 'Art Divine" for the Fort Myers Beach Art Association. Bonnie Roberts and his staff also put on festivals in the plaza parking lot on a monthly basis to offer south islanders a venue for fun near their homes - especially when traffic backs up and traveling to the north end can be difficult.
"'Paint the Beach' was meant to bring people from out of town to experience what life is like on Fort Myers Beach through the arts," he said. "I hope that will continue on for a long time. The people involved in the art association are tremendous people to work with."
A lesser-known contribution has been a home school program offered at the marina. That program went on from roughly 2003 to 2008, mostly spurred on by Kathy Durrett who made sure the program was successful.
"We have had as many as four kids that were high school dropouts that we home schooled in our office. They would work a half of a day and study in the office a half of a day. They had the help of all of our other employees for tutoring," said Al.
Although a couple of children were referred to Fish-Tale, Durrett recalls one dropout coming into the office and asking for a job outright.
"He was only 15 or 16, and I told him that he was supposed to be in school. He wouldn't even look at me when he told me he quit. I told him that I didn't hire anyone without a high school education," he said. "When he turned to walk away, I called him back and asked him if he would consider being home schooled if I hired him. My wife and I bought his books, paid his tuition. He went from ninth grade to graduating in about 2 years. When he was in here studying, I paid him so he got a full paycheck."
That person, to be remained nameless, worked for Durrett for five years, and there are reports he still works on Estero Island.
"This kid went from not being able to look me in the face to being one of my most personable employees," said Al.
Durrett is now a member of the Town's Local Planning Agency. He previously served on the Marine Resources Task Force.
"I was leery because my government knowledge was not that great. I started off with MRTF and was asked to apply for the LPA. I few years ago I wouldn't have had time for this, but I do now. I enjoy it," he said. "It's very educational. I think the LPA makes a big difference to the residential and business community."
Durrett's latest ventures involves combining forces with other community leaders in forming The San Carlos & Estero Island Waterfront Partnership Board of Trade (IBOT) and Greater Fort Myers Beach Friends of the Arts. IBOT's mission is "to educate and support best management and promotional practices for a healthy environmentally sustained waterfront community." The Friends of the Arts organization was formed "to facilitate and fund arts presentations in the greater Fort Myers Beach area." Fish-Tale Marina and Lover's Key Resort are the main sponsors of the latter project.
"We are working really hard to bring certain art events back to Fort Myers Beach like the Film Festival. These are fun projects that I am really enjoying doing. I believe they will really benefit the town also," he said.
Friends of the Arts works as a governing body for various art groups on Estero Island.
"People move here for golf, fishing and walking the beach. I think the Arts is something that needs to be there as well. We want to guide these art groups. If they want to put something on, we are going to tell them where to put it and how to fund it," said Durrett. "In due time, we hope our group will offer people a different perspective on why to come here."