NAPLES — Fifth Avenue South isn’t a shopping mall, and business owners on the Naples street say they don’t want to be one.
A Naples main street, Fifth Avenue South has worked this year to return to its roots by promoting more special events such as movie nights.
The change comes as part of the avenue’s designation late last year as a Business Improvement District, or BID. Popular around the country, Business Improvement Districts are designated zones in which businesses pay an additional tax to fund new construction, enhanced streetscapes, marketing, special events and other self-improvement activities.
Nearly six months later, Lou Vlasho — the Business Improvement District’s president — assessed how the main drag has changed and will continue to do so.
“The BID gives Fifth Avenue South the ability to develop an overall plan for the street so that we can provide visitors with a solid mix of businesses, retail and dining options, arts, and special events that the whole family will enjoy,” he said.
“It also gives us the money and other resources we need to implement that vision.”
Naples City Council in December approved the creation of the Fifth Avenue South business improvement district. The city assessed $2 for every $1,000 of taxable value to fund the district. The 69 properties in the improvement district were assessed based on 2010 property values.
The Business Improvement District hired an executive director, Lise Sundrla, to help roll out its vision. Sundrla, who previously held a regional economic development position in Savannah, Ga., is expected to work with business and property owners to create a strategic plan to help the street maintain its unique character and distinctive personality.
“I’m excited to begin working with Fifth Avenue South’s merchants to develop a plan of action,” said Sundrla, who began her job last week. She said she and her husband, John, relocated to a condo on Fifth Avenue South in May.
“The street has a wonderful mix of elements, from great shops and restaurants, to an interesting history, to beach access. It really has it all.”
Some Fifth Avenue South visitors recently said the difference on the street’s direction is already palpable.
“The street feels more family-friendly,” said Naples resident Brenda Canada, who pointed out she often visits Fifth Avenue to meet friends, shop and dine. “I’ve just noticed more special events and music on the street. It seems to be buzzing all the time.”
Stephen Kroll of Naples agreed.
“We’ve been coming to Fifth Avenue a lot more lately,” said Kroll, who says that he often comes with his wife, Sara, and their children Miley, 5, and Timothy, 3, to the Outdoor Movie Nights and band shell events in Cambier Park.
“We usually come for dinner and make a night of it,” said Kroll, “or we go down to the beach and let the kids run around. There seems to be plenty of interesting things for us to do.”
Keeping things fun and interesting is a top priority for the street, which now faces more competition from other shopping outlets such as the Waterside Shops and Mercato, which did not exist a decade ago.
“Fifth Avenue is very different from any place else in town,” Vlasho said. “We aren’t a shopping mall. Fifth Avenue South is and has always been the center of the community.”
Fifth Avenue South’s challenge remains overcoming some misconceptions, said Skip Quillen, the Business Improvement District’s treasurer and owner of Culinary Concepts restaurant group which operates the popular Chops City Grill, Pazzo! Cucina Italiana and Yabba Island Grill, on the street.
“Our problem is that some area residents believe that we are expensive and for the elite,” he said. “We are not. Today Fifth Avenue South is a very affordable place to shop and dine, with stores and restaurants to suit every budget.
“We are not a ‘soulless’ mall. We are an original, creative, and fun place to be.”
Phil McCabe, a Fifth Avenue South developer, owner of The Inn on Fifth, McCabes’ Irish Pub, and the Business Improvement District’s vice president, plans to build a three-story hotel near the intersection of Fifth Avenue South and Park Street, across the street from his existing inn’s location. The multimillion dollar project is already in the works and is expected to be completed by November 2012.
“We’re on the other side of this recession,” he said. “The time is right. The prospects for growth and success here have never been better.”