An order from Gov. Bush limits growth in one of Florida's fastest-growing communities.
For years, affluent Naples has maintained its quaint, small-town feel. The city's historic landmark, a rustic wooden pier, looks out over the scenic Gulf of Mexico. Just blocks away, tony shopping boutiques and art galleries cater to the well-heeled, while top-notch golf courses in exclusive enclaves welcome retired corporate executives. But head out of the city's center and a different Naples emerges. Minivans travel alongside BMW's on congested roads cutting through a landscape of mainstream malls and master-planned communities. Collier County is among the fastest-growing in Florida, and Naples (pop. 21,000) is facing an identity crisis as it tries to blend the old with the new, the wealthy with the working class.
Alan Reynolds, CEO of WilsonMiller, a regional consulting firm for developers, says most of the growth is just outside Naples in unincorporated Collier County and involves "folks who live here year-round and work for a living." A sentiment to slow growth originates with an affluent minority, and with environmentalists concerned about the Corkscrew Swamp, Fakahatchee Strand and Big Cypress. Most of the county is part of the Everglades. David Guggenheim, head of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, sees a strong need for growth management: "This is sprawl in the Everglades, and that's a deadly combination."
No one disputes that Collier is in overdrive. Its population jumped by 35% from 1990 to 1998 to nearly 210,000, compared with 15% growth statewide. Similarly, Collier's labor force grew 24%, compared with 12% for Florida overall. A traditional agriculture/tourism/retiree economy has given way to a more diverse mix that also includes financial services, information and healthcare technology and some manufacturing.
Housing starts grew 16% to 1,961 for the 12 months ending June 30, according to Bradley Hunter at Boca Raton-based American Metro/Study Corp. That's nearly as many as adjacent Lee County, which has almost twice the population.
As Naples struggles to change gracefully, environmental issues have taken center stage. In June, Gov. Jeb Bush and his Cabinet put the brakes on growth in Collier by ordering the county to make revisions to its growth plan, particularly with respect to environmental protection, or risk losing $28 million in state funds. A month later, the Army Corps of Engineers delivered an environmental study of the area that looked at impacts of economic development on the county's water quality, its natural habitats and endangered species. Reynolds says developers have been sensitive to environmental issues, but the problem from government's perspective was that key regulations weren't on the county's books.
This fall the Collier County Commission will form a community-based task force to develop a new growth plan. Developers and environmentalists are most likely to butt heads over growth in the rural fringe outside Naples, where the drive to develop is strongest. Guggenheim believes the governor's order sets the tone for a new level of environmental sensitivity. As Naples plans its transition, it may also set an example for other counties. Says Reynolds: "This is not an issue unique to Naples, Florida; this issue is going to play itself out up and down (Florida's) west coast."
In the News
Clearwater -- Eastwind Airlines pushed back plans to resume flight service in the bay area, this time from St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, for another six months. The Greensboro, N.C.-based airline used to fly out of Tampa International, but pulled out less than a year ago due to lack of passengers. The airline's five Boeing 737s are scheduled to fly to Orlando, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Boston, Greensboro and Trenton, N.J.
Lakeland -- Lakeland Linder Regional Airport, built 57 years ago as a training base for World War II bombers, is spending more than $11 million to upgrade its facilities to support heavier corporate and general aviation traffic and larger commercial jets.
Tropicana Products put its Lakeland manufacturing plant up for sale. The move is part of the Bradenton-based juice-maker's departure from packaging products for other juice producers. The plant processes fruit, packages juice in cans and bottles, and employs 125.
Bankers again extended the deadline for Breed Technologies (NYSE-BDT) to meet the terms of a $675-million credit package. The auto safety systems manufacturer's latest extension calls for the company to arrange a partnership or outright sale. Breed has struggled since last summer to get out from under more than $1 billion in debt after its massive expansion strategy soured.
Largo -- Vision Twenty-One (Nasdaq-EYES) is selling its retail optical chains to focus on more lucrative sectors of the eye-care industry: laser eye surgery and managed care. The eye-care company will sell all 76 retail locations for $42 million.
Naples -- Cleveland Clinic is moving ahead with construction of a $57-million, 70-bed hospital at its medical complex here and plans to employ up to 30 physicians by year's end. The expansion follows a surge in patient volume with the opening of a surgery center in June, when the clinic saw a record 5,000 patients.
Royal Palm Builders unveiled plans for a 34,000-sq.-ft. professional office complex, Edgemont Office Park, in north Naples. The complex will include 11 freestanding office buildings. Five are already for sale, starting at $476,500.
Naples millionaire and owner of local brokerage A.S. Goldmen & Co., Anthony Marchiano, faces charges of heading a stock scheme that bilked investors out of more than $100 million. Indictments handed down in a New York City court cap a two-year investigation into business practices at Goldmen. Thirty-three people have been indicted, including 26 employees of the firm, which moved to Naples from New York in 1996. The trial is expected to begin next year.
Polk County -- Polk County posted a 1.9% increase in overall taxable property value for 1998, compared to a nearly 4% increase the previous year. County officials attribute the slower growth to decreases in the value of tangible property such as railroads, factories and power plants. Real estate values grew 6%.
Sarasota -- Computer software consulting firm Intech Professionals LLC is setting up its corporate headquarters at Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park. The company, whose clients include Anheuser Busch, MCI Worldcom and Duke University, will move into the new building this fall.
St. Petersburg -- Financially troubled Danka Business Systems PLC missed another financial deadline when it failed to file its 10-K annual report on time. It was the third consecutive time the firm failed to meet a filing deadline. The report, which has since been filed, showed a net loss of more than $249 million for 1998 compared with a net income of $52.2 million in 1997.
The Board of Regents delayed plans for the University of South Florida to offer freshman and sophomore classes this fall at its St. Petersburg campus. With enrollment declining in two-year programs, community college officials are concerned the expansion would steal prospective students.
Tampa -- Efforts to bring the naval supercarrier USS Forrestal to Tampa continue to hit snags. A luxury-car raffle to solicit donations from the public had to be shelved when the fundraising team found out the pitch was illegal. Earlier this summer, the group's interim director, Jack Martin, resigned following news reports of a criminal record and IRS troubles. Recently, the group named a new interim director, Wayne W. Schmidt, who ran the USS Intrepid museum in New York City and more recently was with the Strategic Air Command museum in Omaha, Neb.
A Tampa jury found two Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. executives guilty of conspiracy and fraud charges this summer, ending one phase of the largest healthcare fraud investigation in FBI history. The case focused on how Columbia filed cost reports to the government. Other companies doing business in the Tampa Bay area, including Lincare Holdings (Nasdaq-LNCR) and Vencor also are under investigation.
The city of Palmetto (pop. 10,000) is brushing itself off after discovering an embarrassing $1 million shortfall in its $21.5 million FY 1999 budget. City auditors, Purvis Gray & Co. of Sarasota, uncovered a funding gap for an EPA-mandated water reuse program during a routine audit this summer. It seems when the city's voters voted down the continuation of a 1-cent sales tax earmarked for water reclamation projects, no one thought to secure funding for an EPA project still on the books. Says Linda Stearns, city clerk, "I think that we had so many projects going on and so many sources of funding, nobody had a handle on them."
To cover the gap, the city squeezed the necessary funds from other budget items to complete the EPA project by the Dec. 31st deadline. But now a second phase to extend reclaimed water lines to all city residents, which the city wanted to undertake on its own, will have to wait. With Palmetto currently finalizing its budget for FY 2000, Stearns says, "we're going to do a better job of keeping track of the status of projects and their funding."