DPZ has returned to Naples in 2022, nearly three decades after the charrette and code that transformed 5th Avenue South into a signature main street, the hub of a region, and a national destination. The assignment this past year was to address the Naples Design District, an eclectic, historic area in need of a clearer identity and a plan to help define it.
In 1993 the mission was to equip 5th Ave South with the tools to compete with the sprawling, commercial centers of US41. The charge for the Design District, also known as the 41-10 area, was to generate new ideas for the place to thrive, but without changing those qualities that already make it a beloved neighborhood.
Facilitating both efforts has been a rare and indispensable combination of supporters. Informed elected officials and city staff, complemented by an engaged business and resident community, has consistently contributed to a robust discussion.
Read more about the community engagement through Speak Up Naples here.
Creating the Place
Authentic, memorable places convey an understanding of what makes them special and worth visiting. 5th Avenue South offers a blend of retail, entertainment, and civic venues as well as residential structures. In turn, the Design District offers a quirky, art-infused and very broad mix of businesses, housing, and industrial uses.
The Design District also possesses a walkable urban fabric with east-west avenues wide enough for head-in parking and ample sidewalks. In between them is an untapped asset that some restaurateurs are already starting to explore: the district’s mid-block alleys that inspired the master plan’s Design Walk. This new pedestrian network weaves from alley to alley filled with exciting themes, open air dining, and event programming in a celebration of art, design, and the unique history of the neighborhood.
Connecting the district, 10th Street is the principal north-south spine and it too is a potential canvas for public art in the form of traffic-calming painted crosswalks, wall murals, and sculptural installations to draw passers-by into the Design Walk.
Enhancing the Walk
5th Avenue South’s most visible transformation came in the form of an exciting, rewarding pedestrian experience with a lively sequence of shopfronts and cafes made more welcoming with awnings, arcades, and landscaping.
Fortunately, the Design District already has a pedestrian-friendly scale where residents can access services and meet many daily needs within walking distance of their homes. The goal of the DPZ master plan is to make this walk safer, more interesting, and more comfortable. The new Design Walk and the refreshed 10th Street will solidify a greater sense of connectivity and character, and improve access to the 100+ businesses in the district.
Strengthening the Mix
Successful downtowns are almost by definition 24/7 environments that mix uses and balance the needs of daytime businesses, nighttime establishments, and the residents and visitors who will patronize both. The 5th Avenue South Master Plan accomplished this with multi-level living above the shops and cafes.
DPZ’s plan for the Design District aims to underscore this variety further. In a state that often sees gentrification erase affordability, this part of Naples’ Downtown features a notable inventory of affordable housing apartments sitting adjacent to recently built high-end condos, and the ever-appreciating single-family neighborhood to the north. The DPZ plan identifies strategies and incorporates backed research to maintain this mix and enrich the variety of housing options and building types.
Keeping it Local
Earlier this year The Wall Street Journal named Naples as the #1 ranked housing market in the US. The revenue and activity brought about by 5th Avenue South’s success as a draw for upscale tourists has been undeniably beneficial. However, the national appeal of 5th Ave has left local area residents craving a special area of their own.
The Design District can be that place for locals as long as there is support for the existing small scale and mix of eclectic small businesses. New infill needs to respect this and avoid large footprint structures. While the retail study identified the viability of national retailers and large format stores, this is not what the Master Plan recommends.
Reinforcing the Continuity
Understanding that the city-building process does not end with the drafting of a plan or the adoption of a code, the local leadership in Naples has grasped that good civic stewardship requires ongoing attention, assessment, and adjustment. Naples’ willingness to seek DPZ’s counsel over the decades has lent considerable continuity to the evolution of their downtown.
For 5th Avenue South, the creation of a Business Improvement District has provided an extra level of marketing and support to area merchants. The DPZ master plan recommends a similar BID entity for the Design District to assist the unique mix of retailers, restaurateurs, service providers, and other entrepreneurs.
On June 9th, DPZ’s vision was unanimously accepted by the City of Naples CRA Board It was in no small part a reflection of the strong community support for the project.
The process now moves into implementation with the writing of code language to enable the master plan. The result will hopefully be another great neighborhood in Naples, but one with a local focus and a commitment to inclusivity and creativity. The once-seasonal community is now a more year-round one, and it is increasingly a place for the young and the young-at-heart.
The process this fall now moves into the implementation stage of development.