A New Dawn for East Naples?

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Fred Pezeshkan
TRIO OF TOWERS: Luxury condos, shops and restaurants are part of the Metropolitan Naples project planned where Davis Boulevard meets at U.S. 41 East.

 

Across Naples Bay from Port Royal’s multimillion-dollar estates sits a long-neglected Collier County community still struggling to overcome a legacy of squalor and slums.

Plenty of vacant lots, Old Florida fishing cottages and single-wide trailers remain scattered throughout Bayshore, a former fishing community that sprouted more than half a century ago on the east side of Naples Bay as a more affordable alternative for laborers and service workers who helped build Collier County.

The community long ago shed the name of Kelly Road, the main north-south corridor once known as Collier County’s red-light district because of its prostitutes, drug dealers and other criminals. By changing the two-lane street’s name in the 1990s to Bayshore Drive, residents hoped they could rid the area of its seedy reputation and rebuild like their neighbors to the west in the city of Naples. But change is slow, Bayshore residents and Collier County leaders have learned. The drive a mile east to Bayshore from Fifth Avenue South’s boutique shops, luxury condos and fine restaurants remains a jolting reminder of the development that never came. As Fifth Avenue crosses over to Tamiami Trail East, the gateway to East Naples transforms into abandoned parcels, repair shops and cheap motels.

For more than 20 years, county officials have flirted with developers, hoping to entice them to Bayshore with taxpayer money if they build that showcase project needed to attract more community investment. Now, two developers are promising to break ground soon on separate projects that could serve as the catalysts to deliver Bayshore’s transformation.

 

Fred Pezeshkan

Vision of new heights

After more than four years of delays, the county late last year sold 5 acres to developers Jerry Starkey and Fred Pezeshkan, who have proposed a $250 million, three-tower complex of luxury condos, shops and restaurants in the shadow of Fifth Avenue South. The county offered the developers property tax rebates that could range from $3 million to $5 million to complete their Metropolitan Naples project, in hopes it will bring more investment to East Naples.

“I have lived in Naples for over 40 years, and believe this mixed-use community will indeed stimulate high-quality redevelopment to the east and significantly increase property values, just as the Andres Duany Plan stimulated high-quality redevelopment along Fifth Avenue South over the last 30 years,” Pezeshkan says.

Another developer, David Parker, also is promising luxury condos, shops, a restaurant and a hotel in a $100 million, nine-story project adjacent to Metropolitan Naples. After Parker revealed his development plans last year, he asked county leaders for similar incentives given to Starkey and Pezeshkan, vowing to finish his project first as Bayshore’s real catalyst for growth.

“We’re going to be the first one out of the ground,” says Richard Yovanovich, Parker’s lawyer. “We’re going to be taking the most risk.”

 

FUTURE OPPORTUNITIES: Amapofthe Community Redevelopment Agency boundary shows the Bayshore and Gateway Triangle mixed-use districts in East Naples.

How much is too much?

The request surprised Collier County commissioners, who aren’t accustomed to making such deals with developers.

The agreement with Starkey and Pezeshkan was Collier’s first through a Community Redevelopment Agency, a special entity used by hundreds of other jurisdictions across Florida to stimulate growth in struggling areas. And some leaders argue it should be their last in Bayshore.

“The camel’s nose is in the tent,” says Commissioner Penny Taylor, who led her colleagues in denying Parker’s request in January, arguing the $714,000 in incentives would serve as a dangerous precedent. “I think it’s corporate welfare at its worst.

Collier leaders now are rethinking how they manage redevelopment. Should they offer taxpayer money for private projects? Where do they draw the line between encouraging growth and interfering with free enterprise? Should the county buy land for developers?

“There’s this theory that we’re Naples and you should just come here because we’re nice,” says Collier County Commissioner William McDaniel Jr. Sure, Naples is nice, McDaniel said, but the county should do more to encourage commercial development, including creating an incentive program that provides public investment.

Commissioner Penny Taylor

The promise of two major projects in the Bayshore area also is expected to renew discussions about the Community Redevelopment Agency set up in 2000 to help attract investors and businesses to East Naples. The CRA, which keeps millions in property taxes collected in the Bayshore area for redevelopment, is scheduled to expire in 2030. But county leaders could extend the life of the CRA to manage ongoing development.

“There’s work to be done in Bayshore,” says CRA Director Debrah Forester, noting the agency’s success so far in providing infrastructure, planning and growth for the area.

But other development in recent years, while not as dramatic as the two major projects proposed for the triangle area where Davis Boulevard and U.S. 41 meet, is proof to some that it’s time for the county to step back and let growth occur naturally.

Builders and entrepreneurs have invested their own money in the community over the past decade, gradually helping to diversify the economy, cultivate a cultural identity and increase homeownership in an area scarred by transient renters and absentee landlords.

Porsche Naples opened at Davis Boulevard and Airport-Pulling. Bayshore Drive became home to Ankrolab Brewing Company, Three60 Market and Celebration Park. More than 600 new homes are planned in subdivisions with names such as Camden Landing, Arboretum and The Isles of Collier Preserve. Hundreds of new apartments are planned for Courthouse Shadows. Three shopping centers on the East Trail sold separately last year for a total of nearly $35 million.

All of this growth on top of the major developments proposed has some Bayshore residents and business owners worried that too much gentrification will inflate property values and the cost of doing business, taking away their livelihoods and affordable homes.

“They are picking on poor people,” says Frank Lacava, who has owned property in the Gateway Triangle for more than 20 years where an auto shop and storage center now are located. “They want all of us gone, but we’ll have no place to go.”

 

GATEWAY TO NAPLES: A rendering of another major luxury condo-hotel project planned on the “Mini Triangle” at U.S. 41 East and Davis Boulevard.

How we got here

A history of promises broken by developers makes Lacava and others doubt the big, towering complexes will bring prosperity to Bayshore.

When Collier County launched its Community Redevelopment Agency more than 20 years ago, the idea was to help areas like Immokalee and Bayshore that have been mostly ignored by developers and businesses. With its prime location near the water and next door to the city of Naples, Bayshore always offered great potential for growth. But mostly, there has been disappointment as a number of developers who proposed big projects walked away when their ideas fizzled.

The county created the CRA for the Bayshore area in 2000. Florida law allows creation of the special entities to use property tax growth in targeted communities as a redevelopment tool to remove blight and to attract investment. The CRA’s redevelopment corridor in East Naples includes the Gateway Triangle and Davis Boulevard on the northern border; Haldeman Creek along the west; Airport-Pulling Road and Peters Avenue on the east; and Naples Botanical Garden toward the south.

The Bayshore CRA spent more than $11 million after it was created to buy land in the corridor that could be used to encourage development and to improve neglected parcels. McDaniel and other leaders argue the CRA shouldn’t be in the land speculation business, noting the county paid too much and sat for too long without a clear plan to develop Bayshore property.

“That’s not the government’s job,” McDaniel says. “It’s the private sector’s duty to do that.”

 

Starts and stops

In one case, a developer agreed to take 18 parcels scattered throughout the community off the CRA’s hands in a purchase agreement that required delivery of new homes. After building only three, the CRA spent years trying to either reclaim the property or strike another deal. Last year, the county reached an agreement with a new builder in hopes of completing the remaining 15 homes.

Two development plans for a cultural center that included a mix of residences and retail on another 17 acres purchased by the CRA never got off the ground after years of discussion and financing problems. The acreage now is planned for park use and a smaller version of the cultural center, while smaller-scale residential and retail projects are still possible, Forester said.

The Gateway Triangle site where the two mixed residential and commercial developments are proposed also has seen its share of plans fall through.

The CRA’s agreement to sell 5 acres to Starkey and Pezeshkan for their Metropolitan Naples project came after an earlier proposal to develop the land failed. And the nearly 2 acres adjacent to that site now eyed by Parker for his Gateway to Naples development was the location of another failed luxury condo-hotel proposal.

“The proof is in the pudding that the CRA shouldn’t be in the development business,” McDaniel says.

Redevelopment takes time, Forester said. She notes other factors affected progress through the years, including the Great Recession and the pandemic. “You can’t manage the market, per se, but you have to work with the market,” she says.

The CRA also struggled at first to find strong leadership and acceptance by other county leaders, said Donna Fiala, the former Collier County commissioner who championed efforts for years to improve East Naples. “It took so long to get people to work with you and to let go of purse strings,” she says.

The CRA recouped the $6.3 million spent on the triangle property in the sale to Starkey and Pezeshkan, one of the developers who built the Naples Bay Resort just outside the northwest corner of the special redevelopment district. The CRA used the proceeds to pay off debt and to buy Del’s 24-hour store for $2.1 million in hopes of managing development at Bayshore Drive and Thomasson Drive.

The run of bad luck in Bayshore that started long before the CRA’s involvement likely came as a result of many factors, Taylor said. Investors focused their attention west on the city of Naples. Bayshore still suffers a bad reputation,

and its physical appearance—with heavy commercial, industrial businesses and some old trailers and homes— doesn’t help. “We’re still fighting that old mentality of Kelly Road,” says Maurice Gutierrez, who moved to the area more than 40 years ago.

 

The CRA way

The CRA offered a laser focus to fix problems in the community, using property taxes collected in the area that otherwise would go into the county’s general budget to invest directly in Bayshore. With new businesses and development, the county helped change the area’s image as “that place you go to engage in illegal activity,” Forester says.

Those tax dollars helped fix flooding problems in the area, expand fire hydrants and complete other infrastructure improvements that made Bayshore more attractive to residential and business development, she said.

New development in the corridor, including the triangle projects and more housing, is expected to generate between $33.7 million and $35.1 million in property tax revenue for the CRA through 2030, according to estimates from a 2019 redevelopment plan.

But some long-time landowners think the CRA and county leaders have gone too far in pushing their own vision of what Bayshore should be.

“We want to be left alone,” says Lacava, whose property located in the Gateway Triangle sits east of the two major complexes envisioned as Bayshore’s transformation. “They’re driving around now telling us, ‘We don’t like the way it is.’

“Well, it’s not their neighborhood,” he says. “Somebody has a vision, but I don’t know who it is. It’s not our vision.”

Given the history of failed development plans in the area, there’s no guarantee the developers will keep their promises, Lacava said. “I’m not spending $1 million on a condo in there. If it was such a good deal, developers would have jumped in 20 years ago.”

Other Bayshore residents are cheering on the new developments in the triangle, despite concerns that the two complexes could bring more vehicles to an area still wrestling with parking and traffic problems.

“I guess you have to take the good with the bad,” says Pasquale Razzano, who has lived in Windstar since 1994, when it became Bayshore’s first major development. “That’s why God made highway engineers.”

 

Richard Yovanovich

Decisions, decisions

As Windstar’s former homeowner association president, Razzano has clashed with the CRA in the past over other development proposals. He criticized the CRA for not being transparent about earlier plans that would have expanded rental and affordable housing in the area, something many residents said contradicted promises to shift the focus to homeownership.

“I don’t really understand the makeup of the CRA or who is in control,” Razzano says. “It’s not an independent board of people who live here.”

Collier County commissioners make up the CRA board, a governing structure used by many other Florida communities to run their local redevelopment agencies. Some state lawmakers have unsuccessfully tried for years to change the state law authorizing CRAs, criticizing them as unnecessary duplications of local government that can be abused by elected leaders to pursue their own agendas.

Razzano and others credit much of the development that has come to Bayshore in recent years not to the CRA, but to builders and innovators who brought their own money without seeing big breaks or incentives.

“Third parties have been the reason for the success,” Razzano says.

But Forester said the CRA should receive credit for helping attract those investors. “If the CRA hadn’t been around for the past 20 years, would that have happened? It’s hard to say.”

While CRAs in Lee and Broward counties have more experience, Collier County is relatively new to the process. With its first incentive deal done on the Metropolitan Naples triangle project, Collier commissioners now are considering how to move forward in their efforts to attract development.

When Parker, the second triangle developer proposing the Gateway of Naples project, asked for similar breaks from the CRA, Collier leaders realized they had no structured program similar to those found in Lee County to offer developers tax exemptions or rebates.

Parker’s plan didn’t outline a public benefit other than developing the gateway property, so commissioners argued it didn’t meet the criteria to receive CRA support. But some commissioners said the county should find a way to help developers who are willing to invest in Bayshore and other areas.

“It’s a process you can consider to encourage others to develop in this area,” says Yovanovich, Parker’s lawyer.

McDaniel said the county must find a way to identify worthy commercial projects to support. While he believes buying land for future development through a CRA is going too far, he supports creating a program that offers taxpayer investment in commercial development if certain criteria are met. “Government can have a role in investing in these projects,” he says.

 

BAYSHORE ATTRACTION: Local entrepreneur Rebecca Maddox plans an 18,000-square-foot wine bar, restaurant and entertainment venue on green space across Bayshore Drive from her Celebra- tion Park and Three60 Market.

A local voice

No other entrepreneur has done more to revitalize Bayshore than Rebecca Maddox.

“She hasn’t sought any assistance. She took the big risk,” says Maurice Gutierrez, the long-time community resident who also chairs the Bayshore CRA advisory board.

Maddox transformed an old waterfront bar on Haldeman Creek she bought in 2010 to Three60 Market, a restaurant and wine retailer. In 2018, she opened Celebration Park across the creek, where an eclectic mix of food trucks anchor an open-air bar and dining area.

Now she’s developing a unique wine bar, restaurant, conference and entertainment venue on Bayshore Drive that will offer up to 18,000 square feet of space for public and private gatherings meant to attract crowds big and small. She also plans a sculpture garden honoring history’s greatest thinkers as a peaceful escape for visitors.

PERSONAL INVESTMENT: Rebecca Maddox has risked her own money to create unique ventures promoting synergy along Bayshore Drive.

Maddox said she’s made the investment without big breaks from the CRA because she believes in the community. “I really feel it’s one of my gifts to Naples,” she says. “I still feel that I have more I can contribute.”

She had her frustrations with the CRA and the county, including problems approving a parking area near Celebration Park and Three60 Market. She sees the CRA less as an asset for growth, more as “a government bureaucracy posing as a redevelopment agency” for Bayshore.

“They were not the driving force,” she says.

Instead of spending millions on property for development and tax breaks to builders, Maddox said the CRA could do more for Bayshore by helping small business owners open salons, art galleries and specialty shops that will cultivate the neighborhood’s unique cultural appeal and distinguish it from the city of Naples.

“Philosophically, I do not think Bayshore is Fifth Avenue South. I don’t think it’s Third Street. I view Bayshore as the SoHo of Naples,” she says.

Investment by Maddox and others in the area is evidence of the broader success the CRA has helped nurture through the years, Donna Fiala said. The agency helped coordinate planning efforts that led to the investments and helped eliminate blighted properties. “The CRA had plenty to do with that success,” she says.

Gutierrez agrees, adding that the CRA gave residents a voice to correct county mistakes in poor zoning made over

the decades that allowed blighted areas to fester. It also provided much-needed leverage through land purchases to guide development.

He and other residents have seen their home values appreciate, thanks to decades of hard work by residents, business owners and the CRA, he said. “We’re not trying to be Fifth Avenue, but trying to be something else,” Gutierrez says. “I wouldn’t live in any other place than Bayshore.”

 

Photo Credit: Courtesy Summit Management Group; Courtesy Collier County Florida Goverment, Bayshore CRA Board; Courtesy CYK Law Firm; Brian Tietz, Courtesy Exit One Solution

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