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AMU Reshapes Plans for Performing Arts Venue; Myra Daniels No Longer Involved

myra1aAn ambitious performing arts center at Ave Maria University – initially heralded by AMU President as the start of "a new era" for the school – now is off the drawing board less than two years after it was announced to great fanfare at a university fundraising dinner in February, 2014.

The announcement of the project took Naples and Ave Maria by surprise, both for its vision of a major arts venue in eastern Collier County as well as the person spearheading the effort – Myra Janco Daniels, the founder of the Naples Philharmonic, now known as Artis-Naples. (Left, Mrs. Daniels with AMU President Jim Towey at the school's fundraising dinner. An image of the planned performing arts center is in the background.)

Mrs. Daniels, who says she "fell in love with Ave Maria," eventually sold her home in Naples and announced plans to move to Ave Maria to be close to the project, which was estimated to cost between $10 million and $15 million. It was to include a permanent home for a museum honoring Mother Teresa, whom Mrs. Daniels said had always been a hero to her. She was heavily involved in the construction of a temporary Mother Teresa facility in retail space in the Ave Maria town center.

Now, she says, AMU is moving in a different direction from the 1,250-seat structure originally unveiled and she has no involvement in it. "There's nothing for me to do there," Mrs. Daniels said in an interview.

A spokesperson for Ave Maria University, Stacy Laffere, confirmed the "changing shape of the project" but declined to provide details of a new venue, which is said by those familiar with the project to have a much smaller performance hall.

"Ave Maria University remains committed to the construction of a performance venue for our students and other talented artists," Ms. Laffere said in a statement to The Ave Herald. "As with capital projects at any university, plans for this ambitious undertaking will adjust to conform to the amount of money that is secured. A considerable sum of money already has been given or pledged, and the university will continue with fundraising efforts until sufficient funds for construction are secured. Final plans will not be drawn up and a groundbreaking will not take place until such time."

Mr. Towey is expected to speak about plans for a performance venue among other topics at a "town hall" meeting he is holding for Ave Maria residents on the AMU campus Tuesday, Nov. 17, at 4 p.m. Mrs. Daniels, whom Ms. Laffere said is "a very special friend of Ave Maria University," also had been scheduled for some time to speak later Tuesday as part of a lecture series sponsored by the AMU business department.

The proposed arts center was "the only one of my projects that didn't get done," Mrs. Daniels said.

She said she is "grateful" for her time in Ave Maria. "I was a volunteer and I think I left a mark with students."

Although she now lives in the Vineyards development in Naples, Mrs. Daniels said she expects to continue to spend some time at the home she owns in Ave Maria. She said she views it as a peaceful place to work on one of her current projects, a book about the advertising business in the 1950s, 60s and 70s – a world where she worked along with her husband, legendary advertising man Draper Daniels – a model for the character Don Draper in the TV series Mad Men.

Mrs. Daniels said she is working on a number of other projects and consulting "on a national basis."

She recently was honored for another one of her projects, receiving the Salvation Army's highest accolade – the "Others" Award, bestowed by the organization for outstanding service. Mrs. Daniels was honored for leading an effort to build a $5-million center that would serve the 10,300 "latchkey" kids who need a place to go after school.

"Myra saw a need, had a vision and made it happen," said Martin de St. Pierre, the director of development for the Naples branch of the Salvation Army.

The "Others" award honors an individual or organization for what the Salvation Army calls "an extraordinary spirit of service to others, not only through support of the Salvation Army but the broader community as well." Mr. de St. Pierre said that to his knowledge, the award for Mrs. Daniels is the first the Naples chapter has conferred. Nationwide, recipients include state governors, philanthropists and other dignitaries.

Ave Maria will remain in her heart, Mrs. Daniels said. "I love the people and the students."

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