Naples downtown retail district suffers from identity crisis, officials say

— They’re getting closer to a plan, and Naples officials hope to nail down the details in early November.

Naples City Council, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, and the CRA advisory board today held a joint meeting to discuss the future of the community redevelopment district.

The meeting focused primarily on future capital improvement projects for the district. The joint meeting was one in a series of meetings held in recent weeks to discuss the future of the redevelopment district.

The district, created in 1994, spans from the Gordon River to Sixth Street South and from Seventh Avenue North to Sixth Avenue South. The district includes Fifth Avenue South, the city’s downtown shopping district, and River Park.

The advisory board laid out a list of priorities — a lighting and landscaping project on Fifth Avenue South, a short-term pedestrian solution to Four Corners, and a grant program for homeowners in River Park East — for the district.

The bulk of today’s discussion focused on the commercial areas within and outside of the district. Both council and board members said the city needs to study a way to connect — and market — the city’s downtown.

“One thing that I think is very important (is we) need to market this as a unique and separate entity,” said Councilwoman Dee Sulick.

“Branding of this city, and what it is as an entity, is extremely important.”

Advisory board Chairman Lou Vlahso suggested that the CRA give $50,000 to the Downtown Naples Association to help market the area. The idea was not immediately rejected, however board members authorized Assistant City Manager Roger Reinke to look into outside firms for marketing.

The hope is, however, that a marketing blitz would not just focus on Fifth Avenue South. Instead Councilwoman Penny Taylor said the city should focus on incorporating all of the downtown districts – such as Crayton Cove and Third Street South – in future plans.

“Don’t leave these other districts behind,” she said. “Understand we’re all part of a very big whole. It defines us and makes us unique.” The city would not be able to use money generate in the redevelopment district for projects outside of the district, but advisory board members said they understood the importance of connecting all parts of downtown.

“People can design uptown and downtown centers, but they can not design a downtown,” Vlasho said. “Cities up north have fought to keep (downtowns) from falling apart.” Advisory board members also told City Council on Monday they thought the city should loosen its belt on live entertainment and special event regulations. Those events, they said, is often what brings people downtown.

“It’s been a huge concern that people are flowing to the Mercato and away from the city because of the restrictions that council have put on them,” said advisory board member Johnny Nocera, referring to the North Naples development. “If you’re going to revive Fifth Avenue South, take a look at the restrictions.”

Councilman Gary Price, who serves as the CRA chairman, said the board intends to take action on the advisory board’s priorities, as well as continue discussion about the district’s future, during a Nov. 4 meeting.

Connect with Naples reporter Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster at www.naplesnews.com/staff/jenna_buzzacco

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