NAPLES — Three years after a bank took over Third Street Plaza in downtown Naples, most of the storefronts remain empty — and those that signed leases know their time is limited.
That’s because the new property owners are considering razing the 24-year-old plaza to build a posh hotel, like those in Palm Beach.
“They have for some time been exploring the possibility of a boutique hotel,” said attorney John Passidomo of Naples, who represents owners Anne Camalier and her son, Maryland attorney Charles “Chris” Camalier III.
The new owners, who once leased the building, signed an agreement to take over the land 2½ years ago and acquired the property under the names 2000 Neapolitan Limited Partnership and Third Street Plaza LLC.
“I can’t say that it’s far into the future or that it’s imminent,” Passidomo said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if something comes before the city in six months I think it would be a terrific addition to the city.”
A financial analysis is under way and the owners have retained architects and consultants, he said, so they haven’t sought long-term tenants.
This week, the plaza was mostly empty. A few shoppers looked through clothing racks inside Jami’s. In the plaza, wooden benches were chipped. Some were filled with putty and others had gaping holes. A sign listing tenants showed gaps where business names once were.
Six stores are listed as occupied, but some were locked. Upstairs, there were empty spaces with dust-covered windows.
At Naples Backyard History, a museum featuring downtown Naples, Administrative Assistant Gina Russen said they’d heard rumors of a hotel for two years.
“Of course, we wish the best for the plaza and a hotel would be wonderful, but we’d be sad to lose this space,” she said, admitting, however, “It’s kind of a ghost town.”
She doesn’t believe a wrecking ball and eviction are imminent.
“When I see the public notice posting in the ground, then we’ll be concerned,” she said. “For now, we’re pleased to be part of the plaza.”
In September 2008, Wells Fargo Bank began foreclosure proceedings on Speyhawk Naples Inc., taking control of the property in February 2009. Speyhawk owed more than $4.73 million on its mortgage. Naples also had cited the property for violations of the state fire code and the city nuisance ordinance.
Before the takeover, the plaza lost many stores. Others were evicted. But some, like Naples Backyard History, which has been there two years, looked at the uncertainty as an opportunity for a large space.
The hotel plans come as the owners are suing Collier County Property Appraiser Abe Skinner, Tax Collector Larry Ray and Marshall Stranburg, executive director of the state Department of Revenue. Filed in Collier Circuit Court on April 16, the lawsuit calls the appraisal and taxes too high, “illegal, arbitrary and volatile.”
The 1.47-acre parcel with the plaza is appraised at $5.8 million, while the 0.37-acre garage property totals $401,500. The taxes totaled $61,615.35 and $4,258.72.
The lawsuit alleges the assessments were arbitrarily based and that the appraiser “intentionally ... discriminated” against the owners by imposing additional taxes not imposed on a “substantial number of comparable properties.” It contends the owners would be “irreparably damaged” if the county keeps all of those taxes.
The lawsuit was filed three days after a similar 2011 complaint was amended. County records show Chris Camalier went before the Value Adjustment Board, which can adjust assessments, for several years but was denied a decrease.
In 2011, a special magistrate wrote that the owners had difficulty getting financing due to a 99-year land lease, but the property had other possible uses, including a boutique hotel.
Deputy Property Appraiser Julian Stokes said the assessments and taxes have decreased over the years.
“The reductions were just based on the decline in the marketplace,” Stokes said. “In reference to the tax assessment, we feel it’s quite fair. Of course, they have every right to take every avenue they have available” such as filing suit.
Records show appraisals were highest from 2006 to 2008, reaching $10.1 million, but then declined and remained the same the past two years.
If owners want to build a boutique hotel there, they must adhere to a 42-foot, 3-story limit under the city charter, Naples Community Development Director Robin Singer said.
Other nearby Naples boutique hotels include the Inn on Fifth, The Escalante and Bayfront Inn Fifth Avenue, all on Fifth Avenue South, Trianon Old Naples on Seventh Avenue South and Bellasera Hotel on U.S. 41 South.
Phil McCabe, who spent $19.7 million to upgrade rooms at The Inn on Fifth and open an expansion, said it had a 100 percent occupancy rate for most of the season and peak weeks, one of the highest in Naples.
“I felt the demand was there, and that the economy was coming back,” McCabe said of his decision to expand across Fifth Avenue South. “And I had a vision to build this completely new venue.”
Combined, McCabe’s hotels have 119 rooms.
“I think another five-star boutique hotel in downtown Naples would be fantastic — as long as the quality is there,” he said. “My hotel does great.”