Laura Layden , email@example.com; 239-263-48187:55 p.m. EDT October 13, 2016
It's not business as usual at Colin Strong Antiques.
Since construction started on Central Avenue, the street to his front door, he's seen little business.
"It's terrible," he said. "There's hardly anybody coming by."
Sometimes, he said, he gets calls from customers who say they'll drop by, but they never show up.
"I know exactly what happened," Strong said. "They can't find me or find anywhere to park. You can't get here."
Central Avenue in downtown Naples has been closed to traffic for months in front of the antique store, and some side streets are barricaded, causing headaches for Strong and his customers.
Other businesses on the street are struggling too, with Central blocked off from Eighth Street to Goodlette-Frank Road as crews work to finish a $4.3 million improvement project designed to beautify the road, to make the road safer for cars, bicycles and walkers, and to alleviate flooding on the road from heavy rains.
The project includes medians and roundabouts and will narrow a four-lane section of the road to two lanes.
Before construction began in April, business owners worried it would keep customers away — and it has. But there's an end to the road project in sight. The first stretch of Central to close, from Eighth Street to U.S. 41, reopened Thursday.
Two other segments, from U.S. 41 to 10th Street and from 10th Street to 12th Street, are slated to open by Oct. 28, including the piece in front of Strong's antique store. Other sections of the road are expected to reopen in early November and December.
"We're almost done, and businesses will definitely benefit," he said. "I can't wait to get it open, either."
The project has faced delays, in part due to frequent rains and extreme heat over the summer, but the contractor is working hard to make up for lost time," said Gregg Strakaluse, the city's director of streets and stormwater.
"We had a heat index out there of over 100 degrees for several weeks, and these workers out there need to take breaks, and they need to have their lunches. Otherwise, they are going to get stressed and run into some heat exhaustion. So we've got to protect those workers out there," Strakaluse said.
The project faced delays again in early October as Hurricane Matthew forced crews to "button up" the road construction site for safety as the storm threatened Florida with Category 4 intensity.
Before the hurricane approached, the contractor told the city "all of their available resources are 100 percent focused on the project at hand," Strakalue said.
The redevelopment project is designed to lead up to the entrance to the yet-to-be-built Baker Park, planned for the old landfill site at Riverside Circle. "It's probably one of the most significant east-west corridors that will link the beaches to the future Baker Park and the Gordon River Greenway," Strakaluse said.
Strakaluse has met with business owners on the avenue, and some have shared their frustrations and challenges during construction with so much of Central shut down at the same time.
"I keep reinforcing to everyone I talk to this was a yearlong construction project crunched down into six months," he said. "Normally a project like this would take a year to do."
The work included changing out an old water main, complicating the job. The new water main has been installed, along with new fire hydrants. A new stormwater drainage system is nearly complete.
Work that's still in progress includes road paving, landscaping, sidewalk construction and street lighting.
The city paid the contractor to put up blue directional signs on side streets to help guide customers to the most affected businesses on Central, but getting to those businesses can still be confusing.
The only way customers can get their cars in the shop at Rick Johnson Auto & Tire, at the corner of Central and 10th, is by driving through an alleyway. That doesn't sit well with the owner, Rick Johnson, who has been one of the more vocal opponents of the road project. He believes the road changes will only make matters worse on the street.
The section in front of the auto repair and tire store has been closed since June 1.
"It has reduced my business by 80 percent," Johnson said. "I would be out of business totally if I was only relying on the one store. I wouldn't have survived it, but I have 11 tire stores."
His business has been on Central for 30 years. He hadn't lost money there in years, he said, until the road construction got underway.
"I'm beside myself by what they've done to us," Johnson said. "I don't even know how to put it."
Mayor Barnett said the city has worked with business owners the best it can to help them get through construction and made changes to the road improvement project for their benefit. He said the city timed construction so it wouldn't interfere with the busy season, with most of the work expected to be done by October.
Major road closures didn't start until June — after school let out.
"We are just waiting for it to be over," he said. "Business has been down about 50 percent overall. That's about what I expected."
The only way to get to Treasure Island is through an alleyway or by walking through the construction zone.
With the road improvements, Starbucks will lose some of its parking spots, which will become an outdoor dining patio, which will likely force more of the coffee shop's customers to park in Treasure Island's lot, Wood said. Still, he's supportive of the improvement project.
"From what I've seen so far it's going to be great," he said. "It's going to be a vast improvement in the appearance of Central Avenue."
Ginny Berman, a co-owner of Hair Central in Victoria Square at the southwest corner of Goodlette-Frank Road and Central, said it has been easy to direct customers to her salon because the retail center it's in has an entrance off First Avenue South. "It really hasn't bothered us much," she said.
The salon is the only business left in a more than 17,000-square-foot retail building, but it will soon be joined by the Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery, which will take up all of the empty space. The new showroom is expected to move in by mid-2017, long after road construction on Central is complete.
Robert McDaniel, owner of Downtown Auto Service of Naples, will soon lose his home on Central because the 6,100-square-foot commercial warehouse where he operates near 12th Street South will be razed to make way for a five-unit retail strip center. Still, he's living through the road construction as he searches for a new home.
"It's just a big inconvenience," McDaniel said. "It's a huge inconvenience for all the businesses along Central."
He disagrees with the redesign of the street, but he said the city has been courteous and has done what it promised to do during construction.
Christopher Shucart, of Naples-based JCS Realty Group, an owner of the Victoria Square properties, said he had mixed feelings about changes to Central.
"I think the project as a whole from a stormwater standpoint is going to be a great asset to the area," he said.
He's not so sure about the reduction from four lanes to two, which he fears may negatively affect traffic.
Dan Summers, president of BSSW Architects, which has been on Central since 2004, said the road construction isn't hurting his business because he doesn't get much walk-in traffic.
"It has gone along pretty well," he said.
Developer Jon Rubinton, of R&B Development, which planned a mixed-used project that included 202 condominiums at the former Naples Daily News site on Central, said those plans are on hold and that the property has been put back on the market because it has "appreciated significantly, and the owners have decided to capitalize on the appreciation."
The road improvements, he said, could make the land even more attractive to buyers.
"I think the beautification of Central Avenue will be beneficial to the property, as well as the residents in Naples," Rubinton said.