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Republic of Decor_Naples Design Studio

Not as well known yet as Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South, another district in the city of Naples is getting ready for its closeup. The city recently contracted with an acclaimed urban planner in an effort to reach a consensus for a common vision to make the Naples Design District all that it can be.

Originally named 41-10 for the area between U.S. 41 North and 10th Street in the city, the Design District extends east from U.S. 41 to Goodlette-Frank Road and south from Seventh Avenue North to a portion of Fifth Avenue South on U.S. 41 East. To create a blueprint for reimagining this area, Miami-based DPZ CoDesign and the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency spearheaded a series of charette sessions last fall with residents, retailers, restaurateurs, property owners and other stakeholders. DPZ promises to present a draft master plan this spring to CRA, proposing transformative development or redevelopment ideas stemming from that weeklong series of community meetings that brainstormed future possibilities for the Naples Design District. 

“The real purpose of this whole planning study is, in my opinion, is to develop the vision for what this area could be in a way that could allow it to have its own unique identity and be a wonderful and complementary mixed-use commercial-residential area that can stand alongside Fifth Avenue and Third Street, but with its own unique character,” says Ray Christman, Naples CRA board chair and City Council member.

Master plan

DPZ is short for Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., an architecture firm behind the formation of the New Urbanism movement—known for creating walkable and environmentally friendly cities. In 1994, Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk created the master plan for Fifth Avenue South after Naples contracted with DPZ for help in reimagining Fifth Avenue, which saw a decline once it hit its then economic peak in the mid-’70s. Duany’s idea was to make Fifth Avenue South the center of the city, by turning the downtown stretch into a civic space and a community place where neighbors can meet.

“What happened there since then, 25-plus years, is certainly not a perfect replica of what they laid out back then,” Christman says, “but a lot of the key elements did occur: The Sugden Theatre area was created, the parking garages on Eighth Street, a lot of what evolved in terms of street lighting and streetscapes and so on. It provided a blueprint for that. So, I think when you have a plan that makes sense, it allows an area to evolve organically—but it also could provide a roadmap and a set of parameters for how public investment can occur in a way that’s supportive.”

That was around the same time the city’s CRA was initiated to create a funding mechanism for allowing public investment to occur more meaningfully on Fifth Avenue and the rest of the CRA. The city has used the CRA as mostly a passive vehicle for generating money through tax increment financing and then using that money to fund projects.

But just as Fifth Avenue South didn’t change overnight from the time its master plan was developed, it’s likely that a decade or more could pass before some of the ideas proposed for the Design District are realized. Christman agrees that it’s almost inevitable that it will take years for the Naples Design District to unfold.

“Whatever evolves in the Design District and the so-called 41-10 corridor will likely evolve, I would say, at least over the next decade, if not more. People are not going to wake up in a year or two years and see something brand new and different,” he says.

Not all urban, mixed-use districts are the same, of course. Fifth Avenue is more of an integrated, holistic, linear district, while 41-10 has a wider reach and a mix of commercial and residential, according to Christman. “In many ways it’s two or three different districts,” he says. “The area between south of Central (Avenue) versus north of Central feels quite different.”

The central and northern part of the district is more traditional, lower-rise and less dense with commercial development and affordable housing that’s been there for a long time, with the exception of the Eleven Eleven Central mixed-use development under construction on the former Naples Daily News property and the recent expansion nearby of the Neighborhood Health Clinic.

The southern end of the district recently has seen more dense, upscale development. The final residential tower for the Naples Square planned development is under construction, and a future commercial piece there will include an AC Hotel by Marriott near the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue South and Goodlette-Frank Road. Nearby, the city plans to build a three-story parking garage in proximity to the future Gulfshore Playhouse and a parcel that the Wynn family owns for a proposed mixed-use commercial and residential project.

Its own identity

DPZ’s recommendations intend to build upon the Design District’s assets. One of the boldest proposals on the table suggests repurposing the interior alleys between avenues and other empty spaces to create new temporary or permanent uses; converting this mostly unused space into outdoor areas for dining, performances, artwork and other public uses such as food trucks, gardens and a Design Walk. The goal is to make the district more active and attractive for young people and the next generation, said Galina Tachieva, the managing partner of DPZ CoDesign who led the company’s recent Naples project.

“Our big idea is the Design Walk, which is the interior of the Design District, utilization of the aspects of the blocks between 10th Street and 41 so that it is a coherent, pedestrian experience and something very unique that you cannot find many places, not only in Naples but around the country,” Tachieva says. “It’s a unique opportunity.”

Physical streetscape changes could include new light poles, benches, bike racks, trash receptacles, signage and a reconfiguration of parking. Some of the proposals include increasing walkability, adding more centralized parking garages, changing the look of Four Corners and the Fifth Avenue South extension on the East Trail and redesigning George Washington Carver Apartments to create more affordable housing, increased functionality and beatification with the addition of awnings, porches, pergolas and gardens.

Stephen Hruby, chair of Naples Design Review Board, thinks the Design District transformation will create a new attraction in the city. “I think one of the things this process has done is focused on the need for diversity in our community, the fact that they have respected the uniqueness of this district and not come up with a rubber-stamp design standard,” Hruby says. “I really believe our community needs to be enriched with variety and uniqueness, and I think what they’re proposing here is going to be someplace that’s very different than Fifth Avenue, that’s very different than Third Street, very different from most of the new developments that are going on.”

A community consensus during the first phase of the process supports a unique identity for the neighborhood. Height and density would be controlled by the city so that the area is not developed too intensely. Investments and regulations by the city would try to encourage and incentivize small, independent business owners to continue to operate and thrive there, Christman said.

What’s next?

DPZ’s contract with the city calls for it to provide a vision for the area, including the evaluation and assessment of certain elements having to do with physical infrastructure, such as parking and traffic circulation. From those recommendations and input from the community, the CRA board will develop a short-term action plan for identifying the most immediate initiatives to undertake. 

“My understanding was that they would have a draft, a planning document, to us in the spring timeframe, maybe March or April,” says Christman, noting that the idea is to have the project 90% finished and ready for public input before seasonal residents leave this spring.

“What I’m envisioning—nothing has been formally set up yet—is there would be some kind of public presentation and input session or sessions so that people can react to it in the community,” he says.

The Design District plan will continue to be massaged with public participation through the approval process, said Jeff Oris, former interim manager of the city’s CRA. The planning advisory board, the CRA advisory board, the CRA board and City Council will see and discuss the ideas. “These can become almost anything that we all can dream,” he says. This opportunity to sound off hopefully will occur in the March-April timeframe, Christman said, and “Then, with that feedback, DPZ CoDesign would go ahead and complete a final report and submit it.”

Christman hopes that would be within the following 30 to 60 days, which would take the process into the first part of summer. “The timing would be good on that, because if we were doing that over the summer months and the early fall, the new budget being approved around that time for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. We could build into the fiscal year 2022-23 budget, then, funding to carry out those initiatives relating to 41-10 that we want to undertake in the next year. So, that’s the timeline and process that I hope we could undertake.”

DPZ representatives have been pleased with the ideas and feedback received from the Naples community during face-to-face forums and an ongoing dialogue about the district at SpeakUpNaples.com, Tachieva said. “We understand the place better. We have learned a lot from the conversations with the people,” she says. “We believe that the uniqueness and the character of the place needs to be preserved. This is a place with very special charm.”

That unique charm is what sparked the recent process. The Naples Design District was formed in 2013 by a group of business owners who worked together to spearhead efforts to define, name and brand the area.  

“We are thrilled that the neighborhood continues to grow and flourish, despite the limitations caused by the recent pandemic,” says Elizabeth Kurtz, Naples Design District president and business developer of Kurtz Homes. “We want the Naples Design District to become a vibrant destination of taste and style that epitomizes our new tagline: Art, Dine, Shop, Design. With the support of our businesses, residents, city of Naples, DPZ CoDesign and the Master 41-10 that is currently in the works, we are excited about the future of our community and continuing to cement our foothold in Southwest Florida.” 

Doing business in the district

The Naples Design District comprises an eclectic mix of well-established locally owned shops, boutiques, restaurants and emerging businesses. Within the district, at least 35 businesses have been identified with art, design or home décor uses. The district also has more than 20 cafes or restaurants. 

New businesses opening within the last eight months include:

Art Point – dedicated to the coastal and tropical paintings of Marina Lounis and Naples Frame Up, Naples’ most trusted and longest running custom fine art framer since 1971. 

Bennet Interiors – an interior design firm created by Leilani Bennett, who has specialized in the use of color, the art of feng shui and custom window treatments for more than 22 years. 

High Tide Studio & Gallery – a fine art gallery featuring Florida coastal art by local artists and a co-op studio for owner Margie White and other invited artists. 

Honor Yoga – an eco-friendly beginner yoga and meditation studio offering a sustainable community of healing, and loving environment for the mind and body.

iN’Dulge – a cut and color treatment bar utilizing all cruelty-free and organic hair products.  It is the culmination of founder and creator Norma Long’s experiences in various salons from Beverly Hills to Naples.

Muzyca Art Space – a gallery specializing in modern and contemporary art with a strong focus in Latin American art. Founded by Jennifer Muzyca, the space focuses on promoting established modern and contemporary artists 

including her husband, Arturo Correa.

Naples Studio – an award-winning video production company in Naples specializing in everything from corporate videos to real estate video tours.

Dr. Kyle Nevius – a chiropractor who has been treating workers compensation injuries in Southwest Florida for more than 25 years. He is also a physician educator and distributor of Charlotte’s Web, the world’s largest producer of hemp and CBD oil.

A half-dozen new tenants also have signed on at The Collective design hub. They include a local luxury Realtor, an outdoor furniture manufacturer, roofing company, interior design group, Italian art and fashion business, and a restaurant, Warren American Whiskey Kitchen.

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