Naples Daily News, Editorial Board Published 5:58 p.m. ET Aug. 23, 2017
The suggestion that a parking garage be built toward the west end of the Fifth Avenue South business district in Naples shouldn’t take anyone by surprise.
A city staff memo traces back 30 years of references to needed parking, including one in 1987 for “carefully sited” decks. The memo notes renowned urban planner Andres Duany’s suggestion more than two decades ago that there should be three downtown parking garages. More recently, there was Duany’s statement after a 2004 return to Naples that the city should “move forward on the proposed west end parking garage (Fourth Street and Fourth Avenue),” then a reaffirmation in 2014 and more recently his April visit to tell council to “complete the plan.”
Our editorial board has supported a parking garage toward the western side of the business district. However, we believe the Naples City Council acted prudently last week in not accepting a proposed $6 million contract to buy the Fourth-and-Fourth parking lot for a garage there.
There were enough questions raised by neighbors and council members that, before proceeding, other suggested alternatives should be explored. Yet we’d also contend further consideration is needed of the potential unintended consequences for the revived business district and surrounding neighborhoods by not moving forward with a garage.
We applaud Mayor Bill Barnett for taking the lead in his multifaceted suggestion of a middle ground to acquire the parking lot and then hold town halls before deciding if a garage should go at the site.
The council’s discussion at two meetings last week raised questions that should be explored further, fitting the mayor’s timeline for more public input and deliberation before deciding on another parking garage. All is contingent, of course, on whether the current Fourth Street-Fourth Avenue property owner accepts the city’s $4.6 million counteroffer.
Neighbors have asked, for example, whether time limits on downtown parking are appropriate or whether shuttle services from another location are a better solution for downtown employees and visitors.
Others have asked whether money directed to Fifth Avenue South projects unfairly redirected dollars from redevelopment in the older River Park and Gordon River neighborhoods. That deserves a well-documented response from council.
As for parking, some good questions came from Vice Mayor Linda Penniman:
+ Is charging visitors for parking in the Fifth Avenue South area an option? Beach-area parking lots have shown how easy technology makes it to pay to park, and how less labor intensive it can be to monitor.
+ Could the Park Street lot south of Fifth Avenue that the council bought five years ago for $1.5 million be designated for city residents only, with the Naples-specific beach parking sticker used as proof of residency to legally park there?
What also caught our ear was the reference to a developer’s plan to add underground parking and whether that idea works out. Could a level of parking at that expansive Fourth-and-Fourth lot go underground?
It’s been many years, yet the vision remains vivid to us of boarded-up Fifth Avenue South storefronts. Recent property sales of downtown buildings tell us the economy there is vibrant now, but we can’t assume it always will be.
Unlike past decades, now there is drawing-card competition from Mercato, Coconut Point and more recently Restaurant Row east of Naples, to name a few.
While residents are important taxpayers to defend, so are businesses whose interests also must be protected. If nearby parking is inadequate, what’s the effect on downtown merchants?
If visitors and customers can’t find parking, what’s their choice? Drive around and clog up streets while they look for a space? Park where they aren’t supposed to in the lots of residential complexes, offices and neighborhoods and pay the ticket if they are caught?
Get towed, go through a miserable process of reclaiming the vehicle and then rip Naples for its inadequate parking on the websites available to travelers who are deciding where to vacation?
Taking a short time as Barnett suggested is wise. Alternatives and unintended consequences are both worth considering.