Fifth Avenue South business director hopes to build on success of first year

David Albers/Staff 
 Lise Sundrla, executive director for the Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District, chats with Joe Marinaro, owner of Kilwin's on Friday, June 29, 2012, in Naples.

Photo by DAVID ALBERS, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

David Albers/Staff Lise Sundrla, executive director for the Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District, chats with Joe Marinaro, owner of Kilwin's on Friday, June 29, 2012, in Naples.

— Lise Sundrla often thinks about her work in terms of numbers.

But those numbers aren't just something on a balance sheet. They're the 9,000 visitors who clogged Fifth Avenue South on Halloween. They're the 19 events held already this year, with 13 more already in the works. Or the 15 hanging baskets she hopes to get installed on lamp posts this year.

Those numbers — combined with a myriad of other accomplishments — act as both a symbol of Fifth Avenue South's recovery during Sundrla's first year as the executive director of the Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District and as benchmarks of where to be in year two.

Sundrla — whose first name is pronounced Lisa — was hired in May 2011 as the executive director of the city's Business Improvement District after a national search. District officials said at the time that Sundrla's extensive background in city planning made her perfect for the job.

One year later, they're still singing her praises.

"I think the organization itself is good for the street, it's good for the property owners and it's good for the merchants," said Phil McCabe, an improvement district board member. "I think this last year has proved very successful with the (district) and we got a lot done. (Sundrla) had a lot to do with that."

Sundrla said she dove right into the job, spending weeks going door-to-door to introduce herself to property owners, residents and business owners. There were block-by-block meetings, strategic planning sessions and community workshops to figure out exactly what the community wanted.

The result, she said, was to create an environment that would ensure Fifth Avenue South, and the surrounding streets, are a destination to live, work and play.

"This has been an amazing year,'' she said. "We're meeting so many goals."

Those goals included bringing more locals downtown for events, something Sundrla said they've been able to accomplish through targeted marketing.

Sundrla said themed events — such as a Mardi Gras-themed Evening on Fifth or turning Sip of Fifth into a street festival — has brought more residents to the street. Those events, she said, often lead to repeat visits.

And repeat visits, she said, is good news for merchants: Sundrla said business owners on the street reported a 35 percent increase in business this past season.

But more business doesn't necessarily translate to more money for the district. The district's budget is paid for through a property tax rate, rather than a square footage rate. That means that, much like the city of Naples' budget, the budget fluctuates based on property values.

The district saw a decrease in property values this year, which could mean less money than in previous years. Sundrla said she's hopeful, though, it won't put a dent in the plans.

Still, the district can only use the money it brings in to market, promote and manage the street. That means capital projects, such as major landscaping projects or parking improvements, still need financial support from the city. And while city officials said they are thrilled with the work that Sundrla is doing, they're cognizant of the fact that the city also is strapped for cash.

"It's money, it's money and we don't have any — any to share," Councilman Bill Barnett said. "The city's worried about making its own budget."

Sundrla isn't concerned though. She's already reached out to community leaders to help raise money for projects. A pilot project to put hanging baskets in the 300 block of Fifth Avenue South, which Naples City Council likely will discuss in August, would primarily be paid for through donations. So, too, would a project to provide property and business owners grants to do facade and landscape improvements.

Sundrla said getting that community buy-in and support isn't just important to the organization's coffers, but also to the street's morale.

"I think we have a strong model and the most important component is outreach and communication," she said. "I can't do my job without knowing what's happening on the street. And I feel like I learned a whole lot."

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