By Neville Williams
The dream of a Naples Central Park is dead.
A group of concerned citizens tried earlier this year to find a way to purchase, without taxpayer funds, the former Renaissance Village property at Goodlette-Frank Road and U.S. 41 East. We had the support of the Trust for Public Land, which would have launched a capital campaign and offered tax deductions to donors. This is how many cities have acquired their urban parks. But we ran out of time and the land was purchased by an investment group from Connecticut, which now plans to build the 300 residential units permitted in the prior zoning.
The residential project, called Naples Square, takes up half this 21-acre legacy parcel. Last week City Council also rezoned the remaining 10 acres as commercial “Downtown District,” giving the developers carte blanche to develop it any way they want, assured of future rubber-stamp approval.
Since there is no market for commercial buildings right now, the developers have not yet offered a site plan, but they and the council have made sure that the public will have no role in determining what happens on this highly visible gateway to Naples.
We recommended a public forum comprised of the city officials, the owners and developers, and the public (a meeting known as a charrette), but that idea was nixed by the council, which is supposed to represent the public interest, not private interests.
A public discussion could result in a thoughtful site plan that would benefit the investors and developers, surrounding property owners, and the city, allowing for dense, high-value commercial mixed with open green space, and also coordinate the future development of contiguous parcels between Goodlette and 41.
If Naples wants to be an attractive, world-class destination, it needs to think big and be progressive, and not just let out-of-state money determine its future. Unfortunately, the owners and the developers of Naples square have refused to talk to the public, referring all communication to their attorney, so dialogue is impossible since their counsel has informed us he has no idea what their future plans are.
At least we have the Gordon River Park, and the Council is certainly to be congratulated for having the vision to buy that.