While members of the Naples Design Review Board raved this month about the architectural design of a major plan to redevelop nearly two blocks of downtown property, they aren’t sure the massive mixed-use project is an appropriate fit for the city.
Rather than voting to reject one of the largest single proposals ever before the board, the DRB voted 4-1 to continue the preliminary design review in January, giving the planners another two months to refine the Fifth and 10th project. The significant redevelopment proposes clustering Whole Foods Market, Restoration Hardware, restaurants and other retailers with luxury condominiums in three-story buildings on more than 4.5 acres, including the former St. George and the Dragon restaurant site at Fifth Avenue South and 10th Street South as well as six other adjacent parcels.
DRB Chair Stephen Hruby, who said the significant project in such an iconic location ultimately would be an image statement for Naples, led the board in continuing the project into the new year for a fresh look without making an immediate commitment to approve or disapprove the plans.
“I don’t think we’re ready to vote on this,” said Hruby, a local architect and urban planner. “What I would like to do is see this thing move forward and address some of the issues that we’ve expressed. Make your refinements. Deal with some of these other issues. See what’s coming out of the site planning review and come back with us. I’m not personally ready to vote on this and, if I do, it’s probably going to be a negative.”
DRB member Adriane Orion, the lone dissenter for the continuance, wanted to reject the project at its preliminary design review Nov. 18, which would have derailed the plans and sent its developers back to square one. Orion, also a local architect, said the architectural plans are elegant and expertly rendered, but she wants to see them look more like downtown Naples rather than downtown anywhere. “This could be in L.A. It could be literally anywhere. And that’s my problem with it,” she said.
Calling the architectural design “absolutely stunning,” Orion said she is taken aback by how beautiful it is, but she also is taken aback by how disassociated it is from the small community of Naples, especially because of its scale and location.
“I just feel like it’s masterful, and that makes me so proud,” she said. “But, at the same point, it’s almost like so good that it’s like it could be anywhere. You know what I mean? Like you could pick this up and put it in Atlanta or in South Carolina or Charleston. You could put it in New York City, and that’s what scares me because we’re not any of those and we need to really be aware of how we customize.”
Hruby admitted the project is challenging for the DRB. Although the board has considered big redevelopment projects such as Naples Beach Club and the Old Naples Hotel at the former Plaza on Third Street, they were planned unit developments with individual buildings that were master planned and rolled out one at a time.
“This is a different beast,” Hruby said. “This is the redevelopment of a block and a half of the downtown core of the city. It’s significant on so many levels. One, it is in an iconic location. It is in your face as you’re going down (U.S.) 41. Anybody entering the east, coming down from the north, they see this. This is going to ultimately be an image statement for Naples.”
Hruby questioned the long-term sustainability and timelessness of the architecture. “Is this going to have the test of time? What we’re doing here is making a statement that will last the rest of the century,” he said. “It’s going to make a statement about what Naples is, who Naples is, and what we’re going to look like. If we get it wrong, shame on us. This is a very important development.”
Naples architect Matthew Kragh of MHK Architecture & Planning presented the dynamic project to the DRB on behalf of the developer, Aspen-based M Development. It’s a joint design collaboration with Morris Adjmi of MA Architects, headquartered in New York City. Landscape architect Matthew Lewis of Miami-based Land also is part of the project team.
“MA’s collaborative talents have brought a well-defined level of sophistication on such an important urban infill site within the city of Naples,” Kragh said. “The design team has strived to create a true sense of place for our community. The sense of place includes places to shop, places to dine, places to dwell and places to gather.”
The project would include the 900 and 1000 blocks of Fifth Avenue South just east of Four Corners, where U.S. 41 makes a sharp turn. Fifth Avenue South borders the site to its north, Sixth Avenue South to its south, the 900 Building, an alleyway to the west and 11th Street South to the east, while 10th Street South bisects the mostly vacant property.
“The current site includes several aged office buildings,” Kragh said. “One of them is my old office, so I do know this site well, and also blighted asphalt parking lots that will be eliminated, including two bisecting alleyways that are to be vacated.”
The proposal features two three-story mixed-use buildings with 55 residential dwelling units and more than 125,000 square feet of commercial uses on the downtown property at 936, 1010, 1050, and 1074 Fifth Ave. S., 590 11th St. S., and 975 and 1041 Sixth Ave. S. During his DRB presentation, Kragh did not mention prospective anchors Whole Foods and Restoration Hardware by name.
“The two main driving tenants for the project will be a high-end grocer located on the 900 block and an elegant furniture showroom with a third-floor rooftop restaurant on the 1000 block,” he said.
The collaborative design team is striving for timeless sophistication, Kragh said. “It’s our goal to take this from where it is and really refine this to something spectacular.”
After the project’s preliminary design review by the DRB and site plan approvals from the city planning staff, the project will go before the city’s planning advisory board, city council and then back to the DRB for final design approval. Kragh is expected to present the retooled plans to the DRB at the board’s Jan. 25 meeting.
“I certainly didn’t hear any fatal flaws today, which gives me confidence that we can continue to develop this and bring something back to you that addresses all your comments,” he said.