The New Old Naples
Naples’ future is developing right before your eyes — if you know where to look. A combination of residential and nature-centered projects are ushering in a new era for the Downtown District, bringing almost 575 new single- and multifamily homes along Goodlette-Frank Road and Central Avenue as well as a new city park and a 2-mile greenway along a river few know exists in the city’s urban core. Public and private initiatives and partnerships are reshaping the gateway into Old Naples with a new focus on the Gordon River, a waterway you won’t see unless you get out of your car and walk to it. And that’s precisely the intent of the Gordon River Greenway, which will bring nature to residents and visitors by providing dedicated trails for exploring the mangrove-fringed riverfront behind The Naples Zoo and Conservancy of SouthwestFlorida and an eventual connection to the new Baker Park.
“It’s absolutely perfect,” says Ellie Krier, executive director of the Southwest Florida Land Preservation Trust, founded back in 1988 to create and oversee development of the greenway.
The river and greenway, sandwiched between Goodlette-Frank and Airport- Pulling roads and the hubbub of traffic, strip shopping centers, industrial and office parks and the airport, provide an unspoiled natural setting in urban Naples. The 12-foot-wide paved greenway on the river’s east side will dart in and out of red and white mangroves, reveal a rookery for yellow- and blackcrowned night herons, access elevated boardwalks over wetlands and traipse through pine flatwoods, scrubland and native habitats. Bridges will provide access to the the zoo and conservancy.
“People are always surprised when they take our electric boat rides and there’s an Amazon-like experience in the middle of the city,” says Rob Moher, president and CEO of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, which recently completed a $20 million expansion, including connections to the greenway and a nature-immersion walkway to its nature center. “They see everything from manatees, tarpon and tri-colored herons,” he adds about the sights along the short boat rides. “The opening of the greenway is really going to open people’s eyes that we have this nature district right in the heart of Naples.
“It’s like an emerald necklace around Naples.”
More than 25 years in the making and slated to be dedicated as early as September, the Gordon River Greenway will link to an existing pedestrian loop near the Naples Municipal Airport and eventually connect to Baker Park once the city builds the 15-acre site and a river spanning bridge, conceivably within two or three years, according to Mayor John Sorey III.
Visitors will access the greenway and its 180 acres of conservation lands from new parking lots on Golden Gate Parkway and south of the zoo as well as from multiple entry points along its route.
On the southern end, the greenway will provide a natural amenity for residents of three new residential offerings: the 53 single-family home Mangrove Bay along the river; the mixed-use Naples Square on the site of the failed Renaissance Village and Grand Central Station developments; and the recently announced and tentatively named 1075 Central Avenue with 220 apartments on the former site of the Naples Daily News. The residential projects have been designed by Naples architect Matthew Kragh, who also provided some $250,000 in pro bono services in designing Baker Park. A blend of Old Florida, British West Indies and Bahamian-inspired architecture in a white and pale palette will create a streetscape reminiscent of Old Naples and the storied Seaside in Florida’s panhandle.
The greenway, park and Mangrove Bay are anomalies in the typical build-itand they-will-come scenarios of recent years: communities built in small-acreage infill areas along newly minted roads. Instead, the projects became possible with the sale of land owned by two of Naples’ pioneering families, the Fleischmanns and the Pullings of Fleischmann Park and Airport-Pulling Road fame.
Prime for preservation
The greenway was conceived in 1987 but didn’t gain momentum until 2006, when the land trust had the opportunity to buy 140 acres from the Fleischmann family.
Ms. Krier recalls when then-Mayor Edwin J. Putzell Jr. brought the American Institute of Architects’ Regional Urban Design Assistance Team to town. “He said, ‘We have this gorgeous river no one can see. We can’t let anything happen to mess it up,’” she says. “We had a plan,” she adds, “but we had to wait to buy the bulk of the land.”
Collier County residents approved a referendum to tax themselves to acquire the property around the zoo.
That plan was a grand one, linking residents and visitors to an untapped natural oasis that ultimately will culminate just blocks from Fifth Avenue South and tie into the existing Naples dog park onRiverside Circle. The first phase of the greenway, where the river stretches just 20 feet wide, will also include a kayak/canoe launch.
“Families will be able to spend a day on the river, visit the Conservancy and the Zoo,” says Ms. Krier. “People can boat or paddle to the city park, which will have transient boat slips, have an ice cream cone and go back out on the water.”
The greenway and park, she notes, have become a prime marketing feature for Mangrove Bay and Naples Square. And she’s OK with that. “Anything we can do to get people to walk instead of drive is great.”
The birth of redevelopment
Walkability, access to the park and greenway and the prime opportunity to live on the Gordon River with a dedicated boat slip and blocks-from- Fifth Avenue South location created a unique opportunity for Mangrove Bay, where homes are priced from $2.1 million. Most of the one- and two-story cottage-style homes will overlook the river and estuary with quick access through Naples Bay and Gordon Pass to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Kragh-designed Old Florida-style homes harken back to Naples’ past in an area where many of the city’s first settlers lived. The Gordon River, named by fisherman Roger Gordon, was once a working waterfront. There’s also another hidden secret nearby: a pedestrian walkway underneath the Gordon River Bridge at Fifth Avenue South.
Mangrove Bay became a reality in April 2013 when the Pulling family sold a 15-acre portion of its mangrove-fringed riverfront property with docks and boat slips already in place and wrapping around much of the waterfront. Since sales started in late February, five of the planned 53 homes have sold for an average $3 million, according to developer Jon Rubinton.
Mr. Kragh’s architectural style resonates with buyers as it did with Mr. Rubinton.
“The developer drove through Old Naples and pinpointed the houses he liked,” says Mr. Kragh, the principal of MHK Architecture & Planning, who honed his style of Old Florida with an architectural twist while renovating historic cottages in Old Naples. “He wanted to re-create that look in a larger development. This is a unique and amazing project that reflects Old Naples.”
Each of Mr. Kragh’s six floor plans emphasizes outdoor living and the views; swimming pools and three different elevations are available with each plan. The three- and four-bedroom waterfront and courtyard homes offer 2,600 to 3,600 square feet under air; private-entry guesthouses are included in courtyard designs and optional in waterfront homes. The guest quarters are above two-car garages located in the back, a design feature that enhances the street view. Ground-floor master suites, living rooms and great rooms open up to outdoor living areas, where they’re going to have a fireplace and a bigscreen TV. Some of the outdoor living areas are larger than the homes.
“The reason people like these homes is not only because of their charm, but they’re all designed around the lifestyle seasonal residents enjoy those four fabulous months they’re here,” Mr. Kragh says.
Mangrove Bay brings the masterplanned country-club community concept to the shores of the Gordon River, substituting the requisite golf course for a boat-in-the-backyard lifestyle, complete with a concierge center for kayak, canoe and water-ski storage; a secondfloor clubroom and three deluxe guest suites on the third floor, including one with a living/dining room, full kitchen and balcony. Pool, lawn and landscape maintenance will be provided by the homeowners association, and an onsite concierge will be able to arrange everything from boat cleaning and fueling to stocking the refrigerator and finding a fishing captain, Mr. Rubinton says.
The docks provide covered and openair slips, with options for boatlifts, and can accommodate boats up to 40 feet. The community will also offer a boat launch and connect with Baker Park to the north.
A virtual street-level tour of Mangrove Bay recalls the idyllic and muchrespected Seaside, with its pale palette and Mr. Kragh’s playful take on Old Florida vernacular with balconies overlooking red-clay brick streets, louvered shutters, exaggerated and three-dimensional latticework, gingerbread trim and porthole windows. Although the exteriors look like the wood used in classic cottages, the developers have chosen durable concrete lap siding and PVC for decorative elements and replaced traditional tin roofs with an aluminum derivative.
As part of the design and customization process, homebuyers also get complimentary landscape architecture consultations and interior design services, the latter with Freestyle’s Faith Fix, who is designing three furnished models. Those models and the first five private residences could be completed as soon as the summer of 2015, Mr. Rubinton says.
“We could have chosen a higher density, but we down-zoned the property to preserve the integrity of the site,” he says. “Buyers get an Old Naples location and a unique lifestyle, a blend of the wonderful ambience of Old Naples and nature.”
Rebirth of a development
That high-density development will occur on the west side of Goodlette- Frank, where Naples Square will offer 300 homes and 150,000 square feet of commercial space on 19 acres — a mixed-use concept akin to its proposed predecessors, Renaissance Village and Grand Central Station. The Ronto Group has revived the residential project, in limbo for more than a decade, and is offering two- and three-bedroom condos with 1,200 to 3,000 square feet with prices starting at $500,000.
The buildings will boast a mélange of Bermuda, British West Indies and coastal contemporary influenced architecture with landscaped streets, fountains and resident-only amenity courtyards, much like nearby Bayfront.
In designing the three- and four-story buildings for 220 workforce apartments at the old newspaper site, Mr. Kragh adopted more of a “Florida eclectic” look, one that combines the architectural inspiration of Mangrove Bay and Naples Square with a cleaner, slightly more contemporary feel. The project will offer one- to three-bedroom rentals with 800 to 1,300 square feet.
Mayor Sorey expects the Naples Square location — just 1.5 blocks from the new park — and anticipated rental fees to appeal to teachers, firefighters and police officers.
A park is born
On a parcel formerly owned by the Pulling family adjacent to the city’s public works facility, Baker Park is the final piece in the redevelopment of the new Old Naples and one the mayor hopes Naples City Council will fast track. He’s encouraging council to hire an engineering firm before its June 11 summer recess. Under that scenario, the firm will have the summer to complete studies and nail down costs to build the park and the greenway connector bridge before council returns to session in late August.
“I’m trying to keep council a little bit patient,” he says. “They all want to know the cost of the park, but we need engineering experts to help us understand the scope of work.”
Right now, it’s estimated at $15 million.
“We inherited the bridge. We thought the greenway folks were going to build it. That could cost $1 million to $1.5 million more,” Mayor Sorey says.
The park is a public-private initiative — much like the neighboring dog park. The Prelude to a Park gala in March raised $5 million, including $2 million donated by philanthropists Jay and Patty Baker, who in turn earned naming rights. The city paid $3 million for the property and has $2.5 million set aside. The mayor’s goal is to raise 50 percent of the project cost before beginning construction, which ambitiously could be as soon as fall 2015.
Planning for the park included a series of 25 public meetings. Passive amenities worked into the master plan include a riverfront carousel, multiple water features, a children’s splash area, picnic areas, a kayak and paddleboard dock, boat slips and riverfront sitting areas. The merry-go-round was funded through private donations; additional park offerings, such as a proposed but yet unfunded rock-climbing wall, will be determined by community contributions.
Baker Park will also offer a café, and the old sanitation building will provide public restrooms for those using the park, the dog park and the greenway. Structures including pavilions, picnic shelters and a tiki hut were designed by Mr. Kragh with a nautical tribute to Old Naples.
With wide paths to accommodate wheelchairs, baby carriages, pedestrians, cyclists and skateboards, Baker Park and the Gordon River Greenway will provide a safe environment for outdoor pursuits far removed from major traffic corridors.
“The great thing to me is people can enjoy a 3.5-mile round-trip bike ride without worrying about cars,” Mayor Sorey says. “The greenway is an incredible amenity.” The city will connect the greenway to existing bike paths crisscrossing the city to the beach, Cambier Park and Tin City “without anyone ever having to cross a major city road,” he adds.
A provision in the city’s approval of Mangrove Bay also required an 8-footwide sidewalk alongRiverside Circle that accesses that little-known pathway under the bridge.
The connection of nature and the reinterpretation of Old Naples — and the river that runs through it — is bound to spawn additional redevelopment in the Downtown District.
“We’re creating an exciting and unified architectural theme within two blocks,” Mr. Kragh says. “This will be the gateway to the city.”
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