JOSEPH CRANNEY AND TIM ATEN NAPLES DAILY NEWS
Kelly’s Fish House — the Naples Bay fishery and the area’s longest-running restaurant — will close this summer, and a real estate developer has plans for a major overhaul of the waterfront property.
The three-story project offered by Naples developer Harry Zea includes a ground-floor restaurant, two upper floors of rental condos and underground parking just south of the Gordon River bridge, according to plans reviewed by the Naples Daily News.
Zea said he wanted to anchor the project around Kelly’s but that the restaurant owner, Kelly Ellis, is retiring. “We begged him to stay,” Zea said. “It would have been a good fit for us. We’re not chasing him out.”
Of course, the change will mean the end of an era for Ellis, 72. His mother, Kelly McGill, took over the waterside restaurant in 1971. That’s when The Fish House Dining Room, launched in 1953 by Pat Combs, was renamed Kelly’s Fish House.
Its adjacent Shell Shack shop has been operating since the 1980s. Zea expects Kelly’s to shut down by the end of June, he said, after the sale of the property closes, likely in May. He declined to disclose the buying price before closing.
“I’m grateful for the wonderful people we have had come in through our doors. We’ve been blessed with a lot of good people over the years.”
TOP: A boat rides past Kelly’s Fish House on Monday. The area’s longest-running restaurant will close this summer. A new waterfront promenade will go on the property, with outdoor dining, boat rentals and underground parking.
ABOVE: Kelly’s Fish House was originally launched as The Fish House Dining Room in 1953 by Pat Combs.
In place of the 60-year-old Naples landmark will be another local fishery — Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grill, Zea said. The Sanibel-based business is named after the central character in local author Randy Wayne White’s popular crime novels based on the Gulf Coast.
Zea is naming the project Kelly’s Landing.
“We get to keep the flavor and history of what was there and add something that everyone will have access to,” Zea said.
Zea’s partner in the project is Dr. Myles Alpert, a Naples anesthesiologist, Zea said.
Ellis doesn’t have any retirement plans, but he said he’s going to miss Kelly’s view of the water.
“I’m going to miss my customers the most, I think. I’ve been very fortunate to make a lot of good friends over the years,” he said. “I’m grateful for the wonderful people we have had come in through our doors. We’ve been blessed with a lot of good people over the years.”
Kelly’s employs between 20 and 30 people, depending on the time of the year. Zea said Doc Ford’s agreed to consider some of those employees for jobs at the new restaurant.
Some of those employees have been with him for 30 or 40 years, Ellis said, serving up popular seafood dishes, hush puppies and Key lime pie in a dining room that hasn’t changed much in many decades, although the city changed tremendously around it. “You can’t stop progress,” Ellis said. “Naples has been growing ever since (Hurricane) Donna (in 1960) — even before Donna. It’s just a nice place to be, and everybody wants to be in a nice place.”
Along the bridge over Naples Bay, Kelly’s Landing will neighbor The Promenade on Fifth, Zea’s other venture that includes five restaurants with waterfront dining.
With more than 450 seats of outdoor and rooftop dining and a boardwalk wrapping the two properties, the area stands to become one of the largest public waterfront venues in the city.
Zea hopes to have the two complexes open by summer 2018. His plans for 48 rental units at Kelly’s Landing require approval from the Naples City Council.
The units will be 750 square feet each, with a balcony overlooking the bay and access to a pool, Zea said. The units will be individually owned and governed by an association, he said, which should “highly restrict” short-term rentals.
Stays in the rental units during season must be at least 30 days, Zea said. During off season, stays must be at least a week, he said.
“No overnight hotel-type rentals,” Zea said. “There’s no way that we would allow that.
“Projects like this live and die based on how strict the rules are.”
Beneath the residential units, Doc Ford’s, a fishing-themed rum bar and grill, will include a to-be-determined amount of outdoor dining. The Naples restaurant will be the fourth for the regional concept, which has locations in Sanibel, Captiva and Fort Myers Beach.
Kelly’s Fish House, the area’s longest-running restaurant, will close this summer. A new waterfront promenade will go on the property, with outdoor dining, boat rentals and underground parking.