Walt Disney once said, “Main Street, U.S.A. is America at the turn of the century – the crossroads of an era. The
gas lamps and the electric lamp – the horse-drawn car and auto car. Main Street is everyone’s hometown – the heart line of America.”
While that is certainly true, today’s modern main street sometimes plays an even more pivotal role in a community, and there are few cities where that is truer than in Naples. Fifth Avenue South literally is the economic engine of our city and the regal red carpet that welcomes local residents, as well as millions of tourists who visit Naples every year.
The evolution of Fifth Avenue has been rich and robust.
From its early history of visiting movie stars like Gary Cooper and Gloria Swanson to Charles Lindbergh’s fly-ins to pick up supplies at a handful of small businesses that dotted the landscape to the roar of the Orange Blossom Special, which first rolled into Naples Depot in 1927, Fifth Avenue has had many momentous occasions in its life. From its first street light in the 1940s to its devastating blow by Hurricane Donna in 1960 to its total face lift in the 1990s – when Naples area business owners and civic leaders brought in renowned urban planner Andres Duany – Fifth Avenue has made each transformation with grace and style.
By the late 90s, the already fashionable street was transformed into Southwest Florida’s premier shopping, dining, cultural and performing arts destination, and it continues to be the lifeblood of our city today, where locals and visitors are still making memories. Close to two million tourists come to Collier County every year, making more than a $2 billion impact on the economy. While visiting the beach and relaxing are the top tourist priorities, around eighty percent of these visitors dine out and fifty-six percent shop, according to Collier County’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Suffice it to say a large percentage of those flock to Fifth Avenue. Along with local residents, these visitors participate in Fifth’s antique car shows, holiday festivals, art exhibits and Evenings on Fifth, where they can stroll to music or dance the night away. For the last ten years, the Avenue’s growth and development have been guided by a partnership between Naples city officials and the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District (BID) represented by seven board members from the 220 businesses that line the street today, including 34 restaurants, 42 fashion and other retail stores, 37 spas and salons and 10 art galleries, among others.
The BID, formed in 2010, was the result of a collaboration between Fifth Avenue merchants and property owners. Its mission is to brand, promote and create awareness of Fifth Avenue to residents and visitors as THE destination of choice to live, work, shop, dine and play. The BID provides the city with the means to assess the Avenue’s merchants to fund marketing and promotional activities, which the BID executes. The BID also works to reinvest and guide revitalization efforts and has achieved significant success in attracting worldwide visitors, recruiting and retaining new businesses, and solidifying relationships with policy makers and other community leaders.
This partnership, which was just renewed for another 10 years, is responsible for ensuring that Fifth Avenue’s historic values, managed growth and development, beauty, diversity and marketing of its offerings remain true to its legacy of being, as Walt Disney said about Main Street, USA, a “heart line” to the community. Fifth Avenue belongs to us all and as investors in and stewards of this magnificent landmark, we will continue to enhance and protect its role as Naples’ economic powerhouse and the pulse of a community on the move.
Bruce Barone, Jr., an 18-year Naples resident, is the Executive Director of the 5th Avenue South Business Improvement District