New Naples coalition seeks unified vision for downtown
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When talk of rerouting U.S. 41 began last August, downtown business and property owners from all corners of the city converged on Naples City Hall, fearing a decrease in traffic and customers. The idea was shot down.
A year later, cochairs of what is now known as the Naples Downtown Coalition have managed to harness the power of once discordant voices, channeling the visions of entrepreneurs and restaurateurs among others from various downtown pockets into a cohesive vision for all downtown business districts.
“For a long time Naples had been looked at in specific ways as specific destinations or districts,” said steering committee member Vin DePasquale, owner of The Dock at Crayton Cove and Riverwalk Restaurant in Tin City. “We’re trying to recognize all of downtown Naples as a destination … and to recognize the strength and synergy in all of that.”
Michael Wynn, president of Sunshine Ace Hardware, gave a presentation in front of City Council in June introducing the group and its mission.
“This is the first time I’ve seen leaders from those areas come together and do things as a whole,” Wynn said. “I think the City Council is open to working with us to address things at a higher level versus piecemeal.”
The proposal to reroute U.S. 41 was a topic all downtown stakeholders could get behind. But there have to be more, leaders said, including improving directional signage for drivers and competing with other shopping and dining meccas in the region.
“We have a ton of competition to the north of us,” said cochair Jim Smith. “If you take the malls and outlet shops in Estero, Coconut Point, Mercato, that’s millions of square feet of retail space that wasn’t there 10 years ago.”
Smith, a real estate industry retiree and downtown property owner, said the most successful ventures he’s seen in Naples have been private-public partnerships, including the downtown parking garages and the Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District. The coalition, he said, can be another one of those ventures.
“We’re not a political group. We’re not trying to replace advisory boards to the city,” he said. “But we have collectively hundreds of years of experiences of living and working and owning property in Naples. If I were on City Council or the Planning Advisory Board and I wanted good input, our kind of group can give that.”
About 30 members now comprise the group but leaders said there is an open invitation for those interested.
“The start of this is very inspired people with a lot of great knowledge and a passion to do the same thing,” DePasquale.