The small stretch of Third Avenue South that recently opened as the first phase of a major downtown development project looks, as City Councilman Sam Saad put it, like “the ideal” street design.
The avenue has sidewalks, bike lanes, two traffic circles and 28 new parking spaces. It is brick paved, which the city says is better for stormwater management. And other elements, like palm trees and decorative fountains, add to the streetscape.
The avenue helps downtown traffic flow east to Goodlette-Frank Road and also provides access to the Bayfront shopping and dining complex.
The design of the avenue was approved by Naples City Council in 2013, part of one of the largest development projects in the city’s history. The project, called Naples Square, will include four residential buildings, each with 75 units, and a yet-to-be determined amount of commercial space.
The project is the product of a council-approved plan to create a series of corridors that allow neighborhood residents to walk and bike from the beach to Baker Park and beyond. The council has recently approved several projects that support the plan, including the redesign of Central Avenue and mixed-use redevelopments that will increase the number of downtown residences.
But critics say the council has stumbled while carrying out its vision. Business owners on Central Avenue have complained about proposed traffic plans that threaten to deter customers. And a vocal bloc of Old Naples residents wants the council to deny mixed-use projects they argue do not fit the character of the Fifth Avenue South area.
Two downtown residents and property owners, Joan Fiore and Bob Martin, sued the city in December, claiming the council acted unlawfully when it approved local developer Phil McCabe’s project to add residences on the 400 block of Fifth.
In the Fifth Avenue Overlay District, there are plans to increase the number of residential units by about 33 percent in the next two years. A majority of council favors the uptick, at least in part, because it could mean more people will walk or bike rather than drive downtown. The influx of residences can be traced north to Central and east to Naples Bay. Four high-value projects approved in the past three years, including Naples Square, Mangrove Bay and the Hyatt House Hotel, have plans to add more than 560 residences and 180 hotel rooms.
The projects also add taxable property to the downtown area the city has targeted for redevelopment. The Community Redevelopment Agency projects its revenues, including taxes, will increase by about 53 percent in the next five years. And the city estimates Naples Square alone will add more than $100 million to its tax base.
“If you want a downtown that’s user friendly and not a tourist spot, then what’s happening is great,” said Saad, the CRA chairman.