Across Florida, neglected and contaminated sites once considered too expensive and troublesome to redevelop are being transformed into economic and community assets.
For decades, the five-acre site at the eastern edge of downtown Naples was littered with rundown metal buildings once used as warehouses and car repair shops. It was an area where street crime flourished.
Developers leapfrogged over the area during the real estate boom in the early 2000s. By the time the Collier County Community Redevelopment Agency acquired and assembled the blighted blocks into a single parcel in 2009, the real estate market had all but collapsed, and the area continued to languish.
When the economy bounced back several years later, Jerry Starkey and Fred Pezeshkan — two longtime local developers who have built projects across Florida, Texas and other states — saw an opportunity to turn the “overlooked” parcel into an upscale project that could spur further redevelopment of the area.
It was in a prime location, Starkey says, roughly a mile from the beach in a city that was pretty much built out, and they appreciated that the county had already cleared some hurdles. “The challenge is always to aggregate a lot of small parcels into a buildable parcel. The Collier County CRA did all that hard assemblage work years ago,” he says.
In 2016, the CRA accepted the duo’s $6.4-million offer and development plan. The deal closed four years later, with Metropolitan Naples (Starkey and Pezeshkan’s company) acquiring 3.67 acres and another company, Naples Triangle Development (NTD), acquiring 1.6 acres, according to county records.
Today, the first of three high-rises — a 15-story building with 270 luxury apartments dubbed Ascent — is going up on NTD’s site. Metropolitan Naples plans to start construction this year on a second tower called Aura, with 56 condos ranging from $2 million to $6 million and features, such as an 1,800-sq.-ft. fitness center, a rooftop infinity pool, an outdoor lounge and a putting green. A third tower spearheaded by Metropolitan Naples will also have luxury condominiums as well as retail and restaurants with Class A office space above. All three buildings — which are slated for completion by 2026 — will include ground floor restaurants and retail and parking in an above-ground garage.
Getting to this point has required patience, Starkey says. It took 2½ years to get all the entitlement and zoning approvals they needed for the project, but the biggest headache, he says, was relocating a 200-foot cell tower in the heart of the property, which didn’t happen until 2020. As part of their agreement with the county, the developers have spent the last couple of years putting in the necessary infrastructure, which has included rebuilding utility, stormwater and state roadway infrastructure to serve Metropolitan Naples, as well as the broader area.
Starkey likens the infill project to renovating an old house. “People always talk about when you’re renovating an old house and you take off the sheet rock, you never know what you’re going to find behind the wall. That’s kind of true with redevelopment when you’re going into streets that were put in 50, 60 or 80 years ago,” he says. “Sometimes you have to wind up having to do a lot more work than you thought you would, and that’s the case, but that’s part of the business.”
The developers will receive some incentives once the development is complete. Under their contract with the county, they’ll get to keep 50% of the tax revenue increases the property generates for 10 years. They estimate the value of the buildings at Metropolitan Naples will exceed $750 million.
At the end of the day, the county will get what it wanted out of the deal, too — a catalyst to kick-start redevelopment of the larger region. “This was a very big project for the CRA. They acquired a few other smaller parcels in other parts of the overlay area, but this was their crown jewel. They really wanted to see a new kind of development that would be iconic and stimulate growth,” Starkey says.