John Lehmann and Quenby Tyler, Naples Garage CoalitionPublished 2:55 p.m. ET Aug. 14, 2017
A 350-space parking garage for downtown Old Naples comes up for discussion Tuesday and Wednesday in the Naples City Council chambers.
Proponents state that such a facility is necessary to keep Fifth Avenue South healthy, and those who drive from a distance to dine and shop on this magnificent street want the added convenience.
Local residents are concerned about many adverse impacts on the surrounding residential neighborhood due to the large structure and traffic increases. Others have raised questions about valuation, contract and the like.
We ask: Is the parking really needed and what are the near-term opportunities we will miss if we spend $15 million to $20 million on such a garage?
Fifth Avenue South owners state that business is languishing, visitors are down on the west end of Fifth and that the solution is a publicly subsidized parking garage. They’ve rejected metered parking or plans to have their employees park elsewhere, and don’t discuss the impact of rising rents, evictions of popular tenants, obstruction of the sidewalks by construction or online shopping.
Previous parking studies haven’t suggested a parking shortage of this magnitude.
The city’s 2017 parking consultant recommended installing meters or setting time limits and improving the efficiency of valet services. If new parking spaces were desired, he recommended leasing private parking that is unused in the evening or partnering with private developers. At most, he stated, “the addition of 100 or 150 ‘public’ spaces ... would likely meet most of the city’s existing peak needs.”
Given marginal new space needs and the growing impact of Uber on parking demand, why fund an expensive structure that may rapidly become a white elephant that is impossible to repurpose and problematic to take down?
What’s the evidence that the west end of Fifth is in trouble? In the past few years, several luxury mixed-use condominiums have been built there, and four more are being built or are in the approval process. Three national retailers have opened stores. The area supports more than 10 upscale restaurants, all of which appear to be doing well.
This year The French and Thai Udon Cafe opened their doors to huge success, and Sails is set to open on the corner of Third Street South. In fact, in the past few years, the pace of development at the west end of Fifth has exceeded that on the east.
What’s the budget impact of such a project? Projections of the Community Redevelopment Agency revenue through 2044 show considerable capacity for large projects. However, the 2017-18 draft city budget shows that bonding a $20 million capital expense will leave the CRA with little capacity for other major projects for the next five to eight years due to existing debt and ongoing construction.
There are better options:
+ Baker Park, which Mayor Bill Barnett recently noted could cost $23 million.
+ Much-needed infrastructure in the design and market districts east of U.S. 41, including flood control, landscaping, sidewalks, underground utilities and parking.
+ A public/private partnership with the Gulfshore Playhouse for a new garage near Goodlette-Frank Road with options for visitor and workforce parking.
+ Improvements in River Park, Anthony Park and southern Lake Park.
+ A shuttle service tying the entire CRA district together.
Such improvements east of U.S. 41 – all of which meet CRA criteria for funding – would alleviate Fifth overload with a new entertainment, residential and shopping district. It would support the small and independently owned businesses in this area. All these projects offer more long-term benefit for Naples than further government subsidies for Fifth Avenue South.
Finally, the owner of the land is on record – to the city, on his website and to us – that he will develop this land on his own to include ample parking and luxury condominiums. Perfect!
The Old Naples Association, Merchants of Downtown Association and the other members of the Naples Garage Coalition want our “east of 41” neighborhood and merchant areas to receive critically needed development support from the CRA now, not in 10 years.
Let’s increase the small-town charm of Old Naples, not erode it.
Lehmann is president of the Old Naples Association and Tyler is president of the Merchants of Downtown Association, writing on behalf of the Naples Garage Coalition. Learn more at www.44garage.com or email email@example.com.
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