The population of Collier County is expected to triple in the next few decades. Although these people will not live or pay taxes in the City of Naples proper the majority will have a Naples address and will lay claim to the City’s amenities –beaches, shopping, and dining.
The “activity centers” that county developers are planning to service the new residents include the mundane –CVS on one corner and Walgreens opposite, grocery store, sketchy nail salon, dry cleaner, box stores – but the fun is still downtown.
Winter Park, FL, a community similar to Old Naples, faced the same challenge in the 90’s when Central Florida’s population began to explode. Its charming, upscale shopping district on Park Avenue was lined with interesting boutiques and specialty stores, excellent restaurants, and art galleries. One end of the street ran into a residential neighborhood and the other into Fairbanks Ave., an Anywhere USA arterial road lined with ancient strip malls and auto tire centers.
More and more people flocked to Park Avenue. It was becoming overcrowded, but the city planners did not have the foresight to expand the Winter Park “brand” around the corner onto Fairbanks. They did nothing, and Park Avenue rents skyrocketed until only the giant retail chains like Gap and Black/White could afford space. The interesting boutiques and galleries were replaced with T-shirt shops. Beautiful understated signage was replaced with the garish. The clientele on Park Avenue changed – drastically.
Eventually Winter Park’s leaders caught up and some side streets were developed, but Park Avenue remains a shadow of what it once was.
The City of Naples has the opportunity to maintain the Naples brand and address the crowds we know are coming. The opportunity lies on 9th Street going north from 5th Ave. to perhaps the hospital. Imagine an intersection that keeps traffic flowing. Imagine a thoroughfare that accommodates cars but also provides safe passage for pedestrians and bicyclists. Imagine storefronts near the sidewalk for easy access and street parking. Imagine shade trees and benches that welcome pedestrians from the nearby hotels and condos. Imagine being able to get a decent dinner reservation during season.
Smart Growth planning in the City of Naples will maintain comfort and cachet, but more to the point, it upholds real estate values, stimulates economic development, and addresses traffic issues. No one pays a million plus dollars to live in space above a T-shirt shop.
Naples planners and elected officials get it. Their design of Naples’ Central Avenue and pending redesign of 3rd Street S, are promising. They contain many of the elements that could expand the 5th Ave. experience onto 9th Street.
The plans for redesigning the Four Corners area on 5th Ave. from 9th St. to Davis to accommodate the new mixed-used buildings across the river are coming along. Hopefully, this will prompt city residents to let go of the idea of the old 41N and plan for the very near future.
Beth Brainard is the Executive Director of Naples Pathways Coalition (NPC), a non-profit organization that works to create safe, bikeable, walkable communities in Collier County. For more information or to join, visit the NPC web site at www.naplespathways.org or contact Beth directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.