Ideas flow for transformation of Design District in Naples

Laura Layden
Naples Daily News
Galina Tachieva, a managing partner at DPZ CoDesign, loads a presentation during a public charette for the 41-10/Design District, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021, at The Collective Naples in Naples, Fla.

Ideas have begun to gel that could truly transform the Design District in Naples.

Public meetings seeking community input and feedback for a visionary plan wind down Saturday, as part of a week-long charette.

A final presentation on the best ideas from the effort is slated for Tuesday night at the River Park Community Center. 

Likened to a multi-day town hall, the charette is a way to bring all stakeholders together, through a team approach, to create a design — and a plan to implement that design — with the help of a group of hired experts.

At this point, visionary ideas range from attracting more local restaurants and shops to adding more public entertainment and art on the streets.

As for the new entertainment, it could include everything from a giant movie screen in a rear parking lot to a basketball court in a back alley.

On a larger scale, all of the alleys and other open spaces between buildings could take on a life of their own, as pedestrian-friendly gathering spots for food, art and fun.

Robert Gibbs, a retail consultant on the 41-10/Design District, speaks during a public charette on the project, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021, at The Collective Naples in Naples, Fla.

Saturday's meeting is described as an "open house"

Saturday's meeting, described as an "open house," is designed for residents, including families with children, who are invited to not only share their pitches, but to doodle them. Crayons, paper and tables are at the ready.

The meeting will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at The Collective Naples, on Tenth Street South.

The brainstorming generated by the charette will ultimately result in a new master plan for the Design District, also known as 41-10 (based on its geography).

"It's not all about us. The point of this is to be the people's plan," said Jeff Oris, interim manager of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, during one of the public meetings for the charette.

An attendee jots down notes during a public charette for the 41-10/Design District, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021, at The Collective Naples in Naples, Fla.

The redevelopment agency — governed by City Council — would oversee the implementation of the plan, with assistance from its advisory board. 

The area in focus is large and diverse. It's located to the east and the north of U.S. 41, to the west of Goodlette-Frank Road, and to the south of Seventh Avenue North, spanning more than 200 acres.

A tax increment financing district has allowed the city to capture gains on real estate values in its larger redevelopment area, some of which could be used to make community improvements and spur private development in the slice that is the Design District.

Last fiscal year, the CRA spent more than $2.8 million on capital improvement projects.

The CRA isn't looking to impose anything on property owners in the district, but rather to determine what they want and "figure out how to make it happen," Oris said.

Through the public process, property owners have overwhelmingly made it clear they want to keep the moniker Design District. The area earned the name years ago after attracting a concentration of architectural, interior design, home décor and other design-oriented businesses.

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Many residents, commercial property owners don't want to see the district overrun by national chains

Many residents and commercial property owners have shared they don't want to see the district overrun by national chains, with a preference toward attracting more locally-owned businesses that are more quaint — and more unique.

These days, most cities don't want national retailers on — or near — their downtown streets, except for maybe a few of the ones they really like, said Robert Gibbs, founder of Gibbs Planning Group, who is acting as a consultant to DPZ CoDesign, the Miami-based firm charged with developing the new master plan.

Robert Gibbs, a retail consultant on the 41-10/Design District, speaks during a public charette on the project, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021, at The Collective Naples in Naples, Fla.

He emphasized the trend during formal presentations made during the charette.

Keeping national retailers away from the Design District, however, could be difficult, as their interest emerged long before the charette kicked off, he said.

Gibbs suggested the charette has only created more buzz about and interest in the district's potential for future development.

"Our experience is the market always wins," Gibbs said.

Still, he said, strict codes, along with great planning and ample resources, could go a long way in making sure the district has the right mix of development.

Attracting a mix of local, regional and national retailers and restaurants would be best, he said, as they'll feed off each other, generating more business across the board and giving them more staying power.

A market analysis of the district commissioned by the Gibbs Planning Group shows it could support another 185,000 square feet of development — consisting of 145,000 square feet of retail, or 40 to 45 stores, and another 40,000 square feet of restaurant space, or 15 to 20 eateries.

While that much development potential may seem unbelievable, given COVID and the shift to online shopping, Gibbs said it reflects the wealth in Naples — and its draw as a tourist destination.

When he first saw the results of the market analysis, he said he questioned them himself, and even had it redone to make sure the findings weren't off the mark.

"I thought we had corrupt data," Gibbs said. "It's absolutely a testament to how strong this destination is."

Robert Gibbs, a retail consultant on the 41-10/Design District, speaks during a public charette on the project, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021, at The Collective Naples in Naples, Fla.

Interestingly, he said, Naples currently has about 260 square feet of retail space per resident, much higher than the national average of 30, and retail spending by residents and visitors in the Naples metro area totals $3 billion annually, far more than is typical.

"The No. 1 thing tourists do now when they go on vacation is shop," Gibbs said. "They spend more time in stores than they do in the theme parks in Orlando, or skiing in Aspen. It's the thing they like to do on vacation." 

Three models for commercial growth in the district

He offered up three models for commercial growth in the district: 

  • Local serving center: Under 25,000 square feet, focused on good and services for those living and working in the area. It could include cafes and coffee shops, a bakery, barber and dry cleaner.
  • Neighborhood center: Anywhere from 60,000 to 80,000 square feet, serving residents, workers and visitors. It could include local services, plus larger offerings, such as sit-down restaurants, a hardware store and maybe a pharmacy.
  • Community shopping district: A 185,000-square-foot grouping of local, regional and national retailers, including big national chains that can't fit in the city's popular Fifth Avenue South or Third Street South shopping districts. There could be room for residential and office space on multi-level buildings.

The most intense model could generate as much as $95.4 million in new annual sales — or spending — by 2026.

In studying the Design District, Gibbs said he noticed a lack of restaurants, so he sees big potential there.

He also sees the need for more parking to support additional commercial development.

Bruce Barone, Jr.

Bruce Barone Jr., executive director of the Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District, said he doesn't fear the Design District will become a direct competitor, but expects it to evolve into another special place for residents and tourists to visit in the city. 

"We think 41-10 can be a tremendous asset for the city," he said. 

DPZ, he said, is great at identifying the fabric of a place and developing a plan that's unique to that place, so it's not duplicative.

Quenby Tyler, a business owner in the district and chairwoman of the CRA Advisory Board, described the market analysis Gibbs presented as "spot on."

She said sales at her consignment store, Audrey's of Naples, have been strong, despite COVID and the shift to online shopping.

"People need something to do in town," Tyler said.

So, she's looking forward to what a new vision for the Design District might bring to the city and the district.

"I'm encouraged," she said. "And it's exciting."

While the charette will conclude Tuesday, the work on the master plan will continue through March or early April.

In the meantime, the Speak Up Naples platform at speakupnaples.com will remain up and running for more community input, until DPZ is ready to make its final presentation.