Pavilion reflects benefactor’s desire to protect ecosystem

Thomas R. Schidel
Thomas R. Schidel donated $1.3 million for the construction of the eco friendly pavilion where as many as a thousand guests can enjoy musical performances and environmental programs. ANTHONY INSWASTY


About three years ago, Vero Beach resident Thomas R. Schidel walked into the Environmental Learning Center to see if the staff might be interested in taking his motorized Gheenoe and canoe for its programs, maintenance or whatever they saw fit.

He had visited the campus for an event prior and knew it was all about the environment, but he had no idea the scope of what was offered until management took him on a tour. Of course, the officials were elated to accept his donation of the two boats and by the end of the tour he asked if there was anything else they needed.

After reviewing ELC’s master plan, Schidel pledged a $1.3 million gift to design, construct and maintain an education and event pavilion and oval on the ELC’s Wabasso Island campus.

The ecofriendly amphitheater will serve as a serene place to gather with friends and family surrounded by nature. The covered stage area will have an alfresco with living wall trellises, an outside terrace and a lounge for performers. The adjoining oval is a large turf area surrounded by native plants where as many as a thousand guests can enjoy musical performances and environmental programs. The pavilion and oval will also be available to rent for special private occasions and weddings.

“I moved to Vero Beach in 1977 and built my house on the lagoon in 1980 to enjoy the beauty of this area, yet I really never realized that the Environmental Learning Center was such a hidden treasure,” Schidel explained. “I’ve traveled all over the world hiking, boating and exploring and I’ve seen first-hand the deterioration of the environment and realize how important it is to educate the public about the fragility of our ecosystem.

“I felt that the education and event pavilion could be my legacy to the community. It’s a place where school children come to learn about the environment and explore the beauty of nature,” he continued. “I love being able to help teach the children about our natural habitat and for some children it may be the only opportunity they have to walk the nature trails or seine for fish in the river.”

The original rendering of the pavilion looks entirely different than what it is now. Schidel was involved with much of the brainstorming and revisions until the design ended up being like the curve of the Earth with golden ratio proportions that foster organic, natural looking composition as found in nature.

Architect John Binkley of Edlund Dritenbas Binkley Architects and Associates painstakingly designed the pavilion in keeping with the purpose of ELC’s mission to educate, inspire and empower people to be active stewards of the environment and their well-being. Local builder Barth Construction completed the project. Schidel visited the construction site periodically and enjoyed being a part of the process.

Schidel was in the plastic business and produced tooling for roughly more than a thousand items that are molded in polyethylene. Always the entrepreneur, he also built numerous buildings in Las Vegas to house his plastics plants and later built and managed 76 apartments in Miami.

“I’ve always been willing to take risks and seize opportunities. I have enjoyed being part of this project and look forward to dancing at the opening party,” Schidel said with a smile. “Hopefully this addition to the campus will attract new members who together will band to do what they can to save the environment. That will be my legacy.”

Restoration is theme of pavilion’s grand opening

Thomas R. Schidel Pavilion
An inspiring performance, written and produced by Chris Foster, president and creative director of FW Productions, will highlight the opening of the Thomas R. Schidel Pavilion April 23.


The unveiling of the Thomas R. Schidel Pavilion at the Environmental Learning Center on April 23 will be a party unlike any seen before on the Treasure Coast. This unparalleled experience with live performances by some of the nation’s most talented musicians and dancers is presented by the ELC in partnership with FW Productions.

Even though Chris Foster, president and creative director of FW Productions, grew up in Vero Beach, he had never been to the center; it was love at first sight. When he learned the center was planning a grand opening for the new pavilion, he knew he wanted to be part of it.

“I left feeling inspired by the mission of the ELC and saw immense potential on how their newest venue should be showcased,” he said. “Being a creative, when I visit a space I sometimes see it finished and when I start writing a production all my senses are engaged.

“I saw exactly what this evening should be and restoration was the key. I wanted to tell the story of when the oceans were pure and there was more wildlife before the devastation of pollution and development. I wanted to tell the story in a way that moved people in a way that they felt compelled to be part of the solution.”

The inspirational event will be something that attendees might never again experience in a lifetime. Professional dancers will interpret the scores with fluidity and passion as they bring the story to life. There will be both devastation and hope in their dance. Even the costumes reflect the message of restoration with elaborate, vibrantly colored headdresses depicting the purity of the ocean cascading to dismal plastic flotsam boldly illustrating the devastation of pollution.

“We are committed to telling the story of restoration and also the amazing work that the ELC is doing with education and conservation,” Foster said. “I wanted it to be something that the youth could also connect to and something that would move people. And we want to show the public what the capabilities of the pavilion can be.”

In addition to the passionate performance, attendees will experience an evening of elegance, exquisite food, entertainment, dancing and fundraising. They will leave feeling fully immersed in the mission of the Environmental Learning Center. Visit for more information or to purchase tickets.

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