Fifth Avenue not a Main Street community, despite sign saying it is
By KRISTINE GILL, Naples News
A pink sign at the east end of Fifth Avenue South identifies the strip of restaurants and shops as a Florida Main Street Community.
The program offers resources to cities looking to revitalize downtown areas. But Naples lost its Main Street designation in 2009, and the program’s coordinator, Joan Jefferson, said the sign must be removed.
“Now that I know, I’ll e-mail them or send them a letter and ask them to take it down,” Jefferson said.
Assistant City Manager Roger Reinke said the city didn’t oversee the Main Street program or install the sign and has no plans to remove it, especially because a new group has expressed interest in regaining the designation.
The Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District is contemplating rejoining the program, which offers resources to streets in Florida cities looking to promote and improve economic drivers. Fifth Avenue South first joined in 1996.
“Most communities are in dire need when they join the program,” Jefferson said. “They have either safety issues or downtown has been totally distressed. With Naples, it was enhancement. How can you make a community better than it was even though it was very good?”
The private group which applied for and maintained Fifth Avenue’s Main Street membership has since disbanded.
Accounts differ as to why the group dropped out of the program. Jefferson said the group somehow lost its program manager and could not afford to pay the salary for that position, which ranges from $16,000 to $95,000.
Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce officials, who had no affiliation with the Main Street program but recalled the membership, said organizers did not want to spend the annual $250 in dues.
But because the street once had a designation, Jefferson said it will be easy to get it back.
“I have really good feelings about Naples,” she said, having once visited the city in 2005 for an annual Main Street conference.
Lise Sundrla, executive director of the Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District, worked for Main Street programs in South Carolina before helping to start an urban version of the program in Georgia. She said her experience with the programs means she can lead the street with those same principles with or without official membership.
“When I came to Naples, the first thing I did, having been trained in Main Street, was to start implementing the very same goals used in other communities,” Sundrla said.
The four tenets of the program are to manage design of the street, establish organization among various stakeholders, work to promote the area with events, and restructure its economics by aiding businesses.
It’s possible Fifth Avenue South could be one of two Main Street districts in Naples if leaders decide to apply for the program in another downtown area such as Third Street South or Crayton Cove. Jefferson said that arrangement has worked for some of the 46 other Main Street programs in Florida.
Until the district decides whether to reapply at its August meeting, some residents believe the sign should be removed.
“It would be prudent to take it down,” said Naples historian Lois Bolin. “People see it and they make an assumption, and that assumption is that they’re affiliated with (the program) when they’re not.”