No more hotel? Developers seek tweaks to Metropolitan Naples as construction nears
As construction draws near, the developers of a long-awaited tower project in East Naples seek county approval to tweak their plans.
Based on shifts in market demand, Jerry Starkey and Fred Pezeshkan have applied to make zoning and land-use changes to Metropolitan Naples.
The mixed-use development is planned at the high-profile corner of Davis Boulevard and U.S. 41.
With the proposed changes, the project would still have commercial uses, but it would no longer include a hotel.
Instead, the developers want it to have more residential condominiums.
"There are plenty of hotels," Starkey said.
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The requested amendments would allow for up to 491 multi-family residences. Now, the number is capped at 377.
In their submittals to the county, developers explain that the ability to build more luxury condos would "allow for the greatest flexibility in the marketplace."
They point out there have been significant changes in the marketplace since the county approved the zoning for their project in 2018, including a COVID-related downturn in the tourism industry, which is still in recovery.
In an interview, Starkey said the changes will be beneficial to the county.
"The hotel/residential trade-off is a favorable impact," he said.
The current zoning allows for 228 hotel rooms. The developers want to swap those out for an additional 114 condos (one for every two hotel units).
The developers have also asked to decrease the minimum and maximum requirements for commercial components to "reflect the reality of market conditions," including the fact that the county approved a hotel as part of a neighboring project.
"It's all market-driven, 100 percent of it," Starkey said.
While potential offerings at Metropolitan Naples once included an upscale movie theater, it's no longer in the cards — after one opened a few miles away at Coastland Center mall, Starkey said.
The movie theater would have required a large footprint, he said, easily spanning 40,000 square feet, built over multiple stories.
An organic grocer and a luxury car dealer would have swallowed up space too, but they're no longer in the mix, having chosen not to expand, or to go elsewhere, Starkey said.
"We were dealing with Ferrari and they ended up going north," he said.
The pandemic, he said, has significantly reduced the demand for retail and office space, with more people still shopping and working from home. That makes it much harder to fill.
While the current zoning allows for up to 200,000 square feet of commercial, the developers want to reduce the maximum amount to 130,000, eliminating certain uses and trimming others, in response to market conditions.
"It's unlikely we will even get close to the new number," Starkey said.
With the amendments, the project would still include at least 40,000 square feet of retail and office uses upon completion.
Most of the retail is expected to be restaurants.
At a minimum, the project would have 15,000 square feet of office space — instead of 30,000 square feet.
"Everything we are proposing really reduces the intensity. Nothing we are proposing increases the intensity," Starkey said.
As a result, he said, there won't be more traffic or noise.
While the Bayshore Gateway Triangle Community Redevelopment Agency's advisory board unanimously recommended in favor of the amendments earlier this month, there are still more regulatory hoops to jump through.
The Planning Commission must still review and weigh in on the changes before they go to county commissioners for final approval.
While considered insubstantial, the tweaks require changes to the county's growth management plan, and the approved planned unit development for the lofty project.
The county has been trying to redevelop the pizza-sliced site since the late 1990s.
After teaming up more than five years ago, Starkey and Pezeshkan won the Collier County Redevelopment Agency's design competition to create an iconic, transformative community meant to stimulate redevelopment in the run-down area.
The longtime Naples residents and developers signed an agreement to purchase the property back in 2016.
The duo offered the county $6.4 million for the property during a competitive bid process and paid $500,000 to help cover the cost of moving a cell tower on the site.
Initially, Debrah Forester, director of Collier County's Community Redevelopment Agency, had reservations about the developers' proposed changes, which she feared would go too far, making the project too residential — and not as impactful in creating a sense of place and "synergy" of activity in the neighborhood.
She said she doesn't have those concerns anymore, knowing that the project would still have at least 40,000 square feet of retail and office uses with the approval of the amendments.
"We are happy that the project is moving forward," Forester said. "It has been a long time in coming."
Groundwork has started, as well as improvements to utilities and streets in the surrounding neighborhood.
While the proposed changes to the project are still moving through the county's approval process, Starkey said they're not holding it up in any way. Two of three buildings are moving forward, "as quickly as possible," toward construction, Starkey said.
Construction on both buildings should start within a few months. The last building is still in design, but it's expected to be larger, with more commercial uses.
A slice of the five-acre property has been turned over to another partnership to build the first tower, which will include roughly 270 luxury rental apartments, along with one or two upscale restaurants on the bottom floor.
The second building, planned by Starkey and Pezeshkan, is dubbed Aura. It will stretch 15 stories and have 56 residences, with shops and restaurants at street level.
Aura will have two-, three- and four-bedroom residences, many with a den. Prices range from $1.5 to more than $6 million.
Rooftop features include a pool and sun deck and a state-of-the-art fitness center and yoga studio.
On the fifth floor, residents will find other amenities, from an overnight guest suite and business center to an outdoor kitchen and large putting green.
"We are happy with the way things are going and it will be a very incredible, mixed-use community when we are completed," Starkey said.
At Aura, he described sales as "very good."
Within a few months, the developers should be ready to convert reservations into contracts, then construction can start.
Vertical construction on Aura could begin by early fall.
"We have more than half of the value of the building reserved," Starkey said.
That includes a few penthouses. Three of five penthouses have been claimed.
"We're tickled," Starkey said.