‘Man Without a Plan?’ Fort Myers Beach Project Stalls, Leaving Family in Limbo

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One year ago, a Fort Myers Beach family was offered a life-changing gift: a new house to replace the one destroyed by Hurricane Ian. In our special report “Man With a Plan,” Investigative Reporter CĂ©line McArthur asked local builder Joe Orlandini what inspired his very expensive gesture.

“It’s tough to see anyone’s home in a condition where it’s unlivable. And you really don’t have any place to go. And she doesn’t. She doesn’t have a lot of resources, but she is still a piece of this community. And she needs a house,” expressed Orlandini.

Orlandini aimed to have the family settled into their new home by Christmas 2023. That didn’t happen. CĂ©line went back to the beach to find out why.

A lot has changed in the 17 months since Hurricane Ian devastated Fort Myers Beach. Everywhere you go, you can see and hear progress. However, there are still families caught in a state of limbo, without a place to call home.

It’s a heart-wrenching journey back in time for Tammy Drake and her daughter Maddy. They watched our story about them from one year ago.

“This picture captures the height of the storm. Look closely, and you’ll only see the roof standing above the surge.” (CĂ©line’s report, 2023)

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Seeing their home engulfed by Hurricane Ian’s raging floodwaters once again is almost too painful to bear.

“Watching our entire life wash away… it’s traumatizing,” Tammy expressed during our 2023 interview.

The devastation drove Tammy to make a soul-crushing decision.

“She says Maddy needed far more stability and structure so she’s currently staying with her father out in Seattle.” (CĂ©line’s report, 2023)

Amid her devastation and despair, neighbor and local builder Joe Orlandini extended a lifeline that could reunite these women on their cherished barrier island: A brand new home.

“I expect her to probably cry,” Orlandini anticipated before his announcement in 2023.

Orlandini surprised Tammy during her shift at Wahoo Willies while our cameras were rolling.

Joe: “We’re going to build you a new house.”
Tammy: “Are you kidding me?
Joe: “Would you be OK with that?”
Tammy: “Yeah, I’m OK with that. Seriously?!?”

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Tammy Drake and Joe Orlandini in 2023, embracing after he gives her the news her home will be rebuilt. (Credit: WINK News)

Maddy notices Tammy’s happiness and remarks on it, prompting Tammy to confirm with a simple, “Yeah, that was happy.”

Our story moved three neighbors to donate a total of $130,000 to Tammy for the build. The owners of The Whale, the nearby restaurant also hit by Hurricane Ian, pitched in $100,000 of that.

“We absolutely love the story. We felt for her,” expressed co-owner Dawn Miller.

A year later, Maddy is spending a week visiting her mom. She arrived to find the situation unchanged. Joe’s plans are still sketches on paper, with very little progress made.

The house was demolished in March 2023, with the concrete footings and pilings installed by September. However, progress stopped there.

Celine: “What happened?”

Tammy: “Nothing, absolutely nothing for months. I didn’t even hear from Joe. It was a beautiful, kind-hearted gesture. But if he’s not going to follow through, I do need to move forward.”

I asked Joe to meet up and chat about the project.

Celine: “Looking back, do you think you took on a project that you couldn’t handle?”
Joe: “No! It’s fine. We just need more money.”

Joe claimed he planned to build the house if the community paid for all of it through donations—a detail he hadn’t disclosed during the reveal at Wahoo Willies.

Celine: “It didn’t sound like you were just going to be the builder that gets paid by other people…”
Joe: “No, we needed donations. We’ve always needed donations.”
Celine: “But for all $350,000?”
Joe: “We did.”

The news caught Tammy off guard. “I thought everything was set to go,” she remarked.

Dawn and Mike Miller, owners of The Whale, shared the same assumption. Mike recounted his conversation with Joe after our story aired last year.

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“I said, ‘Joe, you know, what do you need?’ And he said, ‘We need $180,000 to complete this.’ And I said, ‘Would $100,000 help?’ Joe was absolutely flabbergasted. He couldn’t believe it.”

Tammy and the Millers are concerned about the amount of money Joe said still needs to be raised to get the house done: $160,000. That’s on top of the $130,000 raised and another six figures of donated services and supplies.

“We have about $160,000 in donated goods ballpark. I don’t have my spreadsheet, but we have donated goods equaling about $160-ish,” Joe estimated.

Do the math, and he should be $60,000, not $160,000 short. Throughout the last year, Joe also never revealed how the money would be raised. Joe did mention one small benefit at Palm City Brewing Company last April.

You might be wondering, is Joe a man… without a plan? He says no.

Joe: “I have a way of something…. we’re going to donate some shirts. So, we’re going to try to sell shirts out here on the beach.”
CĂ©line: “That would take a lot of shirts for $160,000.”
Joe: “Well, we’re going to try to get some.”

In the meantime, Tammy is working two jobs, hoping to earn enough money to get a mortgage. Selling her slice of paradise isn’t an option.

“Trust me, I thought about, but this is home. If I sell, I will never be back on this island again,” said Tammy.

There has been progress since our interview with Joe; supplies are arriving. He said permitting and material choice caused some of the delays: Joe wanted to build with wood. Tammy preferred concrete.

His attorney, Mark Berardi, sent CĂ©line a written statement:

Mr. Joe Orlandini has dedicated his time, expertise, and personal resources to assist in the reconstruction of Tammy Drake’s home, without accepting any financial or monetary donations for himself. All contributions have been directed and managed by Tammy, ensuring her full control over the project’s funds. Mr. Orlandini’s commitment has significantly advanced the project through his successful solicitation of material and service donations from his network.

It’s important to recognize that projects reliant on donations can face inevitable delays. For instance, a pivotal decision made by Tammy to opt for a concrete structure over a wood frame, despite Mr. Orlandini’s advisories on the potential setbacks and difficulties in securing concrete donations, has notably impacted the timeline. This choice, coupled with the lengthy permitting process, has introduced delays beyond Mr. Orlandini’s control.

Misrepresenting Mr. Orlandini’s dedicated and selfless contributions as anything other than commendable is both inaccurate and unjust. His actions, aimed at rebuilding Tammy’s home, embody a spirit of community and altruism, rather than the negative portrayal suggested.

Disclaimer: Joe Orlandini provided drywall for CĂ©line McArthur’s husband’s residence following Hurricane Ian. It is noted that attempts were made to compensate Orlandini for his services, which he declined. 

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