A marina project will replace some longtime businesses near the Naples City Dock in Crayton Cove.
Napoli on the Bay pizzeria and the Phil Fisher Gallery both have to vacate their building by April 30. The owners of both businesses have known for many years that they have been living on borrowed time there.
“We knew it from Day 1 that something was going to happen, but we didn’t have a specific timeframe. Now, we have to move out of there by the end of April,” said Tony Brito, owner of Napoli on the Bay, which has sold large pizza slices for more than three decades in that weather-worn building with a rusted tin roof.
For decades, that original spot was the only location for Napoli on the Bay. Brito has grown the brand to seven other area locations since he bought it in 1992.
Napoli on the Bay and Phil Fisher art gallery are the only two tenants left in a four-tenant building. Naples Ships Store closed there in 2020 after operating for more than three decades.
“Their leases will both terminate at the end of April and we do intend to demolish the building after that,” said Barbara Walker, president of Neapolitan Enterprises, which owns the property. “The building sustained significant damage both in Irma and in Ian and is essentially unsustainable at this point.”
Following severe flooding from the hurricanes, Walker said the building is impossible to maintain at this point. “The tenants, obviously, are fully aware. We worked with them very carefully to let them get through this season,” she said.
Neapolitan Enterprises is owned by Joan Tobin, the daughter of Julius Fleischmann, a Naples pioneer best known as the benefactor behind the creation of the Caribbean Gardens and Naples Zoo. Fleischmann Park across the street from the zoo is named in his honor. Neapolitan Enterprises still owns a majority of the commercial property on Third Street South that Fleischmann purchased.
Neapolitan Enterprises’ acreage in Crayton Cove includes five small parcels totaling slightly more than 1.5 acres on the 12th Avenue South cul-de-sac adjacent to the Naples City Dock as well as another vacant uplands parcel on the other side of Bleu Provence, which would bring the overall acreage to about 2.2 acres.
“The property has been in the family for many, many, many years and we have been working on things for some time,” Walker said. “It’s property that the family has been acquiring since the early to mid-’50s, piece by piece and kind of putting it together.”
Until 2018, the property included a marina that was attached to the City Dock and another portion attached to the Fleischmann property dating to the 1950s or ‘60s, Walker said. “It was damaged heavily and we ended up having to take it down, actually, right after Irma.”
Now, plans are being formulated to rebuild the marina. Neapolitan Enterprises received its submerged lands lease from the state of Florida and approvals from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild the marina.
“We still have got to do some construction plans and some local permitting, but that will be an exciting project for the area,” Walker said. “I have no idea what the timeframe on that will be, but it is in the works and we have been working on it literally for five years to get permits.”
Specific plans for the marina are not available yet for the waterfront district. “We have not made any decisions. We have not done any plans for it,” Walker said. “We’ve done lots of thinking about it over decades but now that we actually have it, it’s what the market wants at this point and what makes sense at that location, and we’re just simply not there.”
Neapolitan Enterprises’ submerged land lease will abut the city’s but the new dock will be built off of private property and not connected to the City Dock. The bay will be dredged to permit larger vessels in bigger slips.
“There are at least four 100-foot slips, I think. It is designed to have larger boats,” Walker said. “We worked very closely with the city on this to make sure it complemented the City Dock rather than took away from it. What they told us we needed was larger slips, so it is more larger slips. I think the total is 35 that we end up with. It will be constructed in the same method as the City Dock, which, by the way, survived Ian very well, the floating dock system that they have. We’ll be using the same thing.”
Unfortunately, the owners of the pizzeria and art gallery sunk thousands of dollars in renovation work immediately after Ian damaged the waterfront on Sept. 28. They weren’t notified until October that they would have to vacate the building soon.
The businesses chose to do the renovation work for a final season there, Walker said. “That was a decision that they made,” she said. “They’ve been on short-term leases for a very long time because the condition of the building has been marginal for a very long time and continuing to be able to insure it and maintain it has become untenable.” Local artist Phil Fisher and his wife, artist Natalie Guess, said Tobin had been their landlady for nearly 15 years and they knew the days were numbered there but they were just taken aback after they mopped up following more than 5 feet of bay water in the business.
“We knew she was going to tear the building down but we didn’t know she was going to do it right after we cleaned up after the hurricane,” Fisher said. “It wasn’t a surprise to us. The timing just felt tough. It’s life, I guess. I feel fortunate to be here. All the years I’ve had here have been great.”
The couple originally had planned to relocate but now they are rethinking things and are looking forward to some time off. They plan to travel and go paint out West and see friends and family. “We’re not sure. It’s all up in the air right now,” Fisher said.
The artistic couple probably will temporarily store their works and sell their work online, Guess said. “We’ll come back in October and see what they have available around town and we might open back up. We aren’t ready to quit,” she said.
Brito is not ready to quit either. In fact, he plans to open a new Naples location for Napoli on the Bay by the end of April at the former Mama Mia’s pizzeria that closed last year on U.S. 41 after operating more than 45 years in Naples.
“Everything will be the same, just a different location,” he said. “Same equipment, same everything.”
Like his patrons, Brito will have good memories of the original pizzeria for Napoli on the Bay. For a long time, the pizzeria was cash-only at its popular namesake location. “Now it’s 90% credit cards, 10% cash,” Brito said. “If you don’t want to take cards, you’re out of business in a second.”
Of course, Brito also knows redevelopment will follow him to his new Naples location. The retail strip he is moving to was sold to the adjacent car dealership, which plans to eventually demolish that building for a new auto dealer.
“I think it’s going to be Bentley or Rolls-Royce. I think it’s a Rolls-Royce,” he said. “It’s going to be another year and a half before anything happens. At least that’s what they think. The price of everything just skyrocketed.”
The “Tim Aten Knows” weekly column answers local questions from readers. Email Tim at Tim.Aten@NaplesPress.com. Follow him on social media: @TimAtenKnows on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.