Keith Bongirno’s background is in destinations – this includes resorts, town centers and campuses. “Anything,” he says, “that’s really a shared experience.”
Above all, in fact, Bongirno is about creating experiences.
It’s what he plans on doing in his new position as LandDesign’s director of planning and landscape architecture. And it’s not surprising at all, considering that his initiation into the professional realm came with consecutive summer internships at Disney’s design department.
“Back in the day, we would just go out and take Polaroid pictures for the architects,” he remembers. “Like rehab projects and things, but we got to spend a lot of time in the parks.”
Though the Chicago native had visited Florida on family vacations prior to the Disney gigs, it did quite a bit to foster his love for the area. The fact that he was spending most of his year enduring the weather at Michigan State probably didn’t hurt, either.
“It was incredible seeing all the amazing projects that were happening in Orlando at that time,” Bongirno recalls. It’s clear in his language that he cut his teeth as a cast member, in the familiar way he refers to one of the Magic Kingdom’s signature coasters simply as “Big Thunder.”
“The second summer I was there, they were building it,” he says. “We got to go out on site, to see the project underway and have the architects explain it to us. It was really hands-on education.”
He returned to Orlando right after college, and has worked in Florida for more than 30 years. He lived in College Park, and co-founded his firm – Meyer, Bongirno & Craig in 1996 – in an office on Park Avenue.
“It was just above John Craig Clothiers, at 130 Park Ave. That area still feels like the center of town for me.” But he’s been impressed with the growth he’s seen around his downtown office.
“It’s gotten much more livable over the years with big residential properties coming in,” he has observed. “Years back it didn’t feel that way until you got over to Lake Eola or Thornton Park. Now it feels more like a 24/7 city.”
Bongirno splits his schedule between work in the City Beautiful and his home down in Naples. He enjoys time with his daughter, an equestrian, and helping wife Carolyn in her work with Skate for Hope.
“My wife is a breast cancer survivor,” he explains.
A former figure skater, she battled back from a Stage 3 diagnosis at age 33, and emerged with a desire to help. She founded the nonprofit in 2004, in part to empower children and young people with the tools necessary to cope when a loved one faces a cancer diagnosis.
“She developed this show – and the kids get involved in it,” Bongirno explains. “She’s been able to bring in top headliners, skating champions, to be a part of it. And it’s just wonderful for the kids. Many children have parents or grandparents or other loved ones who are facing down cancer and it’s important for them to realize that there is hope.
“[Skate for Hope] helps make the unknown a little more known, a little less scary – and I help out with the logistics of that as much as I can.”