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Collier County continues to grow and develop. There's no stopping it.

Laura Layden
Naples Daily News

The coronavirus pandemic hasn't derailed growth and development in Collier County.

That much is clear from a dizzying number of projects that are chugging along and moving forward, despite the health crisis.

Nick Casalanguida, Collier's deputy county manager, offered a glimpse at current and future private and public investments, running into the billions of dollars, during a virtual Wake Up Naples breakfast Wednesday, organized by the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce.

Nick Casalanguida, Deputy County Manager, talked about Collier County's current and future growth at a virtual Wake Up Naples breakfast, organized by the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, on Aug. 12, 2020. Here he's pictured addressing the county commission at a meeting in December 2016 about a proposed spring training center for the Atlanta Braves, which ended up going elsewhere.

In a slide show, he attempted to present "a little bit of everything," but admitted that there's so much construction going on — and planned — that he couldn't come close to sharing it all in a less-than-one-hour presentation.

"There is still a significant amount of investment going on in Collier County," speaking volumes about the community's attractiveness even in tough times, Casalanguida said.

Investors are starting to "step in" with projects proposed for the county's economic development zones — or Innovation Zones — located in Golden Gate, Ave Maria and around the intersection of Collier Boulevard and Interstate 75.

The zones, which have been slow to take off, are "starting to take shape" and "it's a good thing," Casalanguida said.

Here's how the zones work: After county commissioners choose an area and set a base tax year, any tax increases collected in the area from that time forward can be captured and deposited in a trust fund developers can tap. Up to $1 million can be put into the fund for any zone in any year.

In case you missed it:Innovation Zone OK'd by Collier Commission to spur economic development in East Naples

Several new projects have been announced recently in Collier including: 

  • A 50-bed inpatient rehabilitation hospital to be built by Encompass Health
  • An Amazon last-mile distribution center

More:Amazon distribution center in Collier could be good news for labor workforce

Another interesting development in the works with the potential to create many jobs? A multimillion-dollar logistics, distribution and warehouse operation by Uline. The family-owned business is the leading distributor of shipping, industrial and packaging materials to businesses throughout North America.

Still in the planning stages, Uline's project has been proposed near the county's new sports complex off Collier Boulevard near I-75.

"We expect them to turn dirt in about six months and it's a big project," Casalanguida said.

In other news, he said, the Bayshore/Gateway Triangle redevelopment area could be seeing a lot more dirt flying soon.

A cell tower that has held up a mixed-use tower project planned by developers Jerry Starkey and Fred Pezeshkan with Real Estate Partners International for more than two years has finally been relocated, Casalanguida said. With that obstacle removed, the developers are expected to close on the county-owned land soon, paving the way for construction to begin on the first building.

The proposed development features a mix of housing, retail and entertainment in up to three towers, each as tall as about 15 stories. The zoning allows up to 377 residential units, 228 hotel rooms and a maximum of 200,000 square feet of commercial uses, which could include restaurants, coffee shops, bars and a movie theater.

More:Closing on land for tower project in East Naples delayed

Meanwhile, the land next door — once targeted for a luxury condo-hotel called Trio — could soon change hands again, bringing redevelopment to the site after years of uncertainty about what would become of the now-vacant property at the corner of US 41 and Davis Boulevard.

The investment interest in Collier, Casalanguida said, is due to several factors including low crime rates, great schools, good infrastructure and an attractive climate. 

As outsiders consider another place to live — including COVID-19 flee-ers from larger cities, such as New York, "we keep popping up," he said.

As for recently completed projects, Casalanguida touted the completion of Arthrex's headquarters expansion off Immokalee Road in North Naples, which includes a four-story hotel for its visitors and a new administrative office tower and two-story wellness center for its growing number of employees.

"That area is amazing," he said.

In the future, much of the growth will happen in the northeastern parts of the county. A big part of that growth will be a handful of new rural villages planned by Collier Enterprises and Neal Communities, two of which Collier County commissioners have already approved.

The villages will sit in the 185,000-acre Rural Lands Stewardship Area, where a voluntary program allows developers, in exchange for preserving more environmentally sensitive land, to build towns and villages in areas with less value for conservation.

Collier County government is making — and planning — some big investments of its own to encourage and keep up with growth, including a new campus away from the coast.

Investments continue into the new Paradise Coast Sports Complex, with plans to begin the second phase of construction soon. In total, the county plans to invest $100 million into the project, designed to attract more sports tourism including elite youth football, soccer and lacrosse events.

In a few weeks, a new covered outdoor lake-front training gym will open at the complex that promises to be "epic." It will host sports tournaments, as well as special events and festivals throughout the year, creating a new social gathering spot with a great lawn offering everything from football Saturdays to family movie nights on the video board.

He likened the complex to a Cambier Park and Baker Park "on steroids."

Other high-priority community projects include:  A career and technical training center, the construction of new workforce housing, a new nursing home for veterans and a larger mental health center. The county will tap a one-cent sales surtax over seven years to make them a reality.

The county's $129 million investment into the purchase of the 167-acre Golden Gate golf course will also spur new development, including new workforce housing and a new Top Golf-like entertainment venue — dubbed Bigshots Golf, which will offer state-of-the-art virtual games and recreational courses designed for every player, no matter the skill level.

The nursing home for veterans could also be part of the redevelopment project. 

Collier County commissioners also recently agreed to buy more than 900 acres of environmentally sensitive ranch land for $10 million, which will give it room to make road improvements in the rural area and space for workforce housing.

The property sits east of Collier Boulevard and just north of the cross-state Alligator Alley stretch of I-75.

The county is pouring money into its infrastructure, from its road network to its water and sewer services, to meet current and future demands.

One of the most notable transportation improvement projects, Casalanguida said, will be the extension of Vanderbilt Beach Road, which is expected to cost $121 million — with $74 million of that cost financed through the county's surtax.

The long-planned road project is expected to start next year. It will extend and broaden the major corridor for about 7 miles from Collier Boulevard to 16th Street Northeast.

"This will be the biggest relief to Immokalee Road," Casalanguida said.

Construction is projected to start at the end of 2021, with completion slated for 2024.

"The stress on Immokalee Road can't continue and that has been a project that has kind of lingered for some time," Casalanguida said.

A few flyovers are also on the county's drawing board, like those seen on Florida's east coast, to deal with the increased traffic generated by a growing population, which is teetering on 400,000.

The virtual event — hosted on Zoom — drew an audience of more than 100 listeners, with many questions asked after the presentation, including how the business community can best support the county as it looks to keep up with growth.

More education is needed to explain to the community that growth is going to happen, with more land already entitled for development. There are still so many county residents with a '"not-in-my-backyard" attitude or no-growth mentality, and he said he'd like to see that change. 

He likened the continuing wave of development to a cargo ship coming to the port, saying you can't stop it, but you can work together to "push it into the dock you want." 

"This is a gem of a place in the country and people are going to come here," Casalanguida said.