Brent Batten: County eyes purchase of legendary 24-hour store in East Naples
What hurricanes and armed robberies couldn’t do, the steady march of urban renewal might — close Del’s.
Theresa Ackerman, widow of legendary local businessman Del Ackerman, has offered to sell Del’s 24-Hour Food Store and adjoining properties to the county’s Bayshore area Community Redevelopment Agency.
The convenience store has operated virtually nonstop for more than 55 years. Del’s stayed open through hurricanes Andrew and Wilma, although it did reportedly close for a while during Hurricane Irma.
It was open while deputies investigated an attempted armed robbery in which the perpetrator was shot by Del’s granddaughter, a clerk.
It was open, run by outside help, as the staff attended the funeral of Ackerman’s first wife, Nancy, in 2012.
Ackerman, who died in 2019 at the age of 83, first thought of selling out in 2017, asking $3.5 million for the 1.84 acres known as Del’s Corner at the southeast corner of Thomasson and Bayshore drives.
There have been no takers and the store has continued operating.
In January, his widow Theresa Ackerman approached the county about possibly buying the spot.
County-hired appraisers put the value at about $2.11 million and that was the offer discussed Tuesday as county commissioners considered the idea.
On the plus side, the property would be a boon to the effort to upgrade the area, which was once considered the underbelly of Naples, but which is now in the midst of a rebirth, with amenities including Sugden Regional Park, the Naples Botanical Garden and a burgeoning dining and arts scene.
On the downside, the CRA, which boosts the improvements with tax dollars collected from the area, is already stuck with millions of dollars in debt and a nearby property it is trying to unload.
In a compromise, commissioners agreed Tuesday to put a decision off for a week to ask Theresa Ackerman if she’s willing to wait until the sale of that property near the intersection of U.S. 41 and Davis Boulevard goes through before the county moves.
Sale of the triangle property, as it is known, could be final in September. A group of local builders has offered $6.37 million — about what the county paid for the land in 2009 — for the property, on which the CRA still owes about $3.8 million. Their plan is for an upscale development of stores and condominiums.
With the sale proceeds, the CRA could buy Del’s Corner and still have a healthy reserve. If the sale doesn’t go through, the CRA would still have enough money, but its reserves would be left thin, said Deborah Forester, CRA director.
That gave Commissioner Burt Saunders pause. “I don’t think in good conscience we can direct the purchase … when the CRA can’t afford to purchase this if the triangle doesn’t close,” he said.
The pandemic could cause property tax revenues to fall and force builders to reevaluate their plans, he said.
Commissioner Donna Fiala favors the purchase. She made note of the progress in the Bayshore area in recent years. “It had slums, it had blight, it had crime. It was a perfect area for a CRA to be established. There’s so much more that needs to be done,” she said.
Forester listed partnerships with arts and cultural groups as a possible use for the land.
Commissioner Penny Taylor named the neighboring botanical garden as one possible partner.
No matter what the county does with the site, its purchase would allow upgrades to the already-planned improvements to Thomasson Drive and would give the county control over what goes there, Taylor argued.
Now, much of the property is zoned for heavy industrial use, auto repair and warehouses, activities not compatible with the area’s redevelopment vision, Forester said.
Whatever the county might do with the land, a marker in memorial of Ackerman’s long time in business would be placed at the corner.
Commissioner Bill McDaniel, who opposes the purchase, supports that designation, calling Ackerman a friend. “I bought a lot of bait off him,” McDaniel said.
(Connect with Brent Batten at email@example.com and via Facebook.)
Hear from Del Ackerman in 2017 talk about his retirement. Ackerman, who owned Del's 24 hour Food Store, retired after 54 years. Naples Daily News