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Off the couch and into the trees

Alan Fulmer has lofty goals for his project: “I want people to get in touch with nature.”
Alan Fulmer has lofty goals for his project: “I want people to get in touch with nature.”
Published May 9, 2016

Alan Fulmer wants you to turn off the computer, take a deep breath outside and climb a tree.

"I'm not a tree hugger," Fulmer said. "I'm a high-tech guy. But trees are what give us oxygen. Trees are important."

So to help people appreciate nature, Fulmer plans to build a cafe in a wooded spot near Sanford where customers can order a cappuccino or latte and then enjoy it in one of the several treehouses among the dozens of live oaks, laurel oaks and pine trees on nearly 4 acres of a woodsy refuge not far from Interstate 4.

He's calling his venue the Retreet, a site where business groups or organizations could hold meetings "up in the trees."

Plans also show a 100-seat amphitheater, a sculpture garden, a meditation labyrinth and displays of several natural relics he has acquired over the years — including a small meteorite that fell in Russia, a 20-million-year-old clump of petrified wood and an 11-foot cross section of a 2,600-year-old giant sequoia chopped down in 1952.

"I want people to get in touch with nature," said Fulmer, who plans to start construction within a year. "My motto is: Drop the screen and get out in the green."

Fulmer is not an idealistic hippie who would rather live out in the woods wearing tie-dyed shirts and munching on nuts and berries. He calls himself a "semi-retired" tech guy after selling Channel Intelligence Inc. — the Celebration-based technology company he co-founded — to Google in 2013. He lives near Lake Mary with his family.

He figures it will cost about $1 million to build the Retreet. He recently submitted preliminary design plans with Seminole County and is now looking to annex into Sanford for utility services.

Russell Gibson, Sanford's director of planning and development services, said he had not yet seen Fulmer's plans. However, the annexation and approval process could take several weeks to complete.

Fulmer, 57, came up with the idea for the Retreet after reading an EPA report that said the average American spends 93 percent of their day indoors, whether it's in the home, at the office or in a car.

"This is a trend that must be reversed," Fulmer said, "not just for the general health and well-being of people. But also to make people more aware of nature, of their environment and the planet on which they live."

If people spend more time in the outdoors and among trees, they would become more concerned about climate change and other environmental issues, he said.

Plans call for treehouses to be large enough to accommodate at least 20 people, partially supported by trees and connected by elevated wooden walkways. To reach the treehouses, customers would use ramps or elevators. Along with coffee, the cafe would offer a menu of desserts, hot and cold drinks plus beer and wine.

Customers would sip their beverage amid the sounds and smells of Mother Nature.

"I want to get people outside, not only for their health's sake," he said, "but for the planet's."