What We Need
Our poll of community leaders turned up 10 advances that can make Southwest Florida an even better place to live and work.
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6. Waterfront dining
Perhaps the thing longtime residents hear complained most about by those new to the area is the painfully low number of waterfront drinking and dining options outside of Fort Myers Beach. We’ve got these beautiful vistas, both on the Gulf and along the inland waterways, but there aren’t many establishments with access to them.
Residential development long claimed dibs on most of the prime Gulf-front real estate, so aside from a few hotel restaurants, there’s little to be done on that front. Your best bet for decent waterfront dining in that regard might be strategic friendships with folks in Pelican Bay towers, those along Gulf Shore Boulevard in Naples and those with beach access in Sanibel.
- “That’s what we moved down here for, to eat on the water. It would be great if there were more places. … Hopefully as they are developing the new Gordon River areas they’ll do something. It doesn’t need to be 10 (restaurants), but just one or two would be great. And they don’t need to be big, major restaurants. Just family-friendly places people can enjoy.” Mickey Gargan, state committeewoman for Collier County Democratic Party
- “My wife and I were driving up Fort Myers Beach a few months ago and noticed all the dining options. It was just restaurant after restaurant—some of them honkytonks, some nicer places. And we thought it’s a shame Naples doesn’t have more of this.” R. Wayne Mullican, Volunteer Florida commissioner
- “We have some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world, but not many places to enjoy them. Sunset picnics on the beach are great, but sometimes you want to wear heels and drink an adult beverage. And I appreciate a dive as much as the next girl, but our restaurants that have been on the water for years need to refurbish their buildings and their menus.” Stephanie McIntosh, member services administrator for Mediterra Community Association
7. Music venues
We’ve got more than a dozen theater companies. You can see art shows just about every weekend. But when it comes to culture, Southwest Florida is certainly lacking in one area—music clubs. From jazz to rock to just about anything else you can think of, our responders seemed to think nothing would liven up the entertainment scene quite like live bands.
Sure, you can see Harry Connick Jr. at Artis—Naples or Toby Keith at Germain Arena or Chicago at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall. But where can you go to catch a great little jazz combo or up-and-coming singer songwriters? There just isn’t a Birdland or a 40Watt or a Stubb’s Bar-B-Q.
- “The area lacks venues for regular and more intimate live music performance of all kinds. Blues club (with national talent), rock club (not just digital music), experimental music—please, not country western—performance art, etc. These are available in many cities of note, but are not to be seen (here).” Andrea Clark Brown, architect
- “I really think we need a jazz club. A cool, comfy place where awesome jazz bands can play late into the night? Amazing.” Kristen Coury, founder/producing artistic director of Gulfshore Playhouse
- “Naples needs an amphitheater on the river on the new Gordon River Park. This will be a wonderful setting away from the majority of residential areas in the city for live outdoor entertainment. It is clear from the attendance at the many outdoor concerts we have that a venue specifically for outdoor concerts would be well attended.” Sam Saad, Naples City Council member
8. Intrastate travel
Getting out of state in a hurry couldn’t be easier. Just take a quick ride to Southwest Florida International Airport or a bit longer of one to get to the airports in Fort Lauderdale and Miami. But getting anywhere in the state, aside from those aforementioned places and Tampa, is a huge pain. Heading to Orlando? Plan for four hours in the car. Anywhere farther north, forget about it. It’s easier to get to Key West by boat than it is to get to Jacksonville by plane.
Now, some of this is our Southwestern- most location. But, in general, rapid transit through the Sunshine State is a drag.
- “Southwest Florida needs better intrastate air service that makes it easier for legislators and citizens to visit Tallahassee, makes it affordable for leisure travelers to visit other Florida destinations and makes it more efficient for business travel.” Ted Soliday, executive director of the Naples Airport Authority
- “I think that an inter-connectivity by rail to our regional airports is greatly needed. Imagine being able to hop on board here on the west coast and travel directly to Fort Lauderdale or Miami to catch your flight, also giving tourists the opportunity to land on the east coast, then train over and spend time here with us on the west coast and train to SW Regional or Miami to travel home.” Janet Martin, Bonita Springs City Council member
- “Southwest Florida needs more options in the way of intrastate air travel. I’m sure everyone who needs to travel to Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami, Pensacola will agree with me that it is very expensive and lengthy to get to any of these places from here by air. There are very few direct flights, and if there are, the costs are prohibitive. Private charters are usually not a cost-effective option. We usually end up driving.” Gail Markham, founding partner of Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Company, P.A.
9. Better-educated workforce
Previously, we mentioned needing to diversify our economy. Well, most people seem to think the best way to get that done is to up our game in the education department. Now, we aren’t talking about stealing Stanford or MIT and moving them to Immokalee. But we are trying to get a workforce that is ready to handle the challenges of the modern workplace, whether that means increasing the number of college-educated people in the region (right now it’s 31.6 percent for Collier and 24.6 percent for Lee) or refocusing high schools to promote technical skills among those who aren’t seeking a higher degree.
- “We need the education level to train people to become successful, professional business people, which seems to be lacking right now, according to some of the companies who have registered their concerns with the Chamber and Economic Development Dept. Many high-wage employers who have looked at the area, and even some who are already here, state concerns about the level of education that is lacking.” Donna Fiala, Collier County Commissioner
- “(We need) continued commitment to have local businesses work with the local educational institutions, both K-12 and four-year institutions, to educate and train future employees. Encourage local leaders in academia to think outside the box.” Barbara Berry, Collier County School Board member
You can never have too much of a good thing. While we have several museums dedicated to local history and Artis—Naples’ The Baker Museum, which houses a growing and impressive collection of 20th century art, there is definitely room to grow.
- “A cool, comfortable museum with interesting and unique exhibits around every corner would be a great way to enjoy a few hours in Naples while you recover from too much sun or a late night on Fifth Avenue South.” Stephanie McIntosh
- “We have no museum or venues that focus on the exclusive display and presentation of contemporary art and issues or high-level venues that strive to bring new art as well as national and international exhibitions of experimental, emerging or at least branded but edgy works of art to our city. As a result, the education that corresponds with the production of new art and contemporary trends is sorely lacking. This lost player in our local culture is made obscure to many for whom this magnificent and creative segment of current visual performance is almost completely unknown or foreign/off-putting or all-together dismissed at best.” John Carroll Long, artist
OTHER INTERESTING IDEAS
Although our top 10 ideas garnered critical mass in terms of support, the answers to our “What does Southwest Florida need?” query were in many ways very idiosyncratic. Here are 10 more of our favorite suggestions—some whimsical, some serious—that got one or two votes:
- In-N-Out Burger
- Downtown Naples movie theater
- Pizza places open after 9 p.m.
- Beach cabanas near Fifth Avenue South (so tourists would stay downtown after beaching)
- An upscale driving range, with membership capabilities
- Surf park/Standing wave
- New Orleans-style restaurant
- Real-time website for community and nonprofit events
- Hotels in downtown Fort Myers
- Ultra-high-end dining (think Alinea or Per Se)
HMMM ... REALLY?
Some of the suggestions sent our way made us realize something: Talented, driven people often operate inside a bubble. Several things people thought we needed (including museums from the top 10) are things we already have. Maybe we need more of them, or maybe a few of our friends need to do a little exploring.
Microbreweries: Off the top of our heads, there’s Naples Beach Brewery, Fort Myers Brewing Company, Point Ybel Brewing Company and Beecher’s Brewing.
Greater support for the arts: If anything, Southwest Florida is a little too passionate about its arts groups. See what happened when The Phil changed its name to Artis—Naples?
More pet friendly: It’s hard to go anywhere without seeing someone with a dog in tow. Don’t get us wrong, we are big fans of our four-legged friends. But other than on the beach and inside some restaurants, we have a hard time finding any place they can’t go.
Affordable entertainment: While increasing the diversity of entertainment options is a cause we fully support, perhaps you haven’t looked around enough. There’s Art Walk and Music Walk in Fort Myers; on Monday nights, the Fort Myers Film Festival holds $6 screenings at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center; Fred’s Food, Fun & Spirits in Naples has live music almost every night. And those are just the first four things we could think of. (Still having problems finding things to do? Subscribe to our Weekend Insider e-newsletter: gulfshorelife.com/subscriptions/e-newsletters)
Transparent government: Thanks to Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine law, our state has one of the most transparent systems of government at both state and local levels. And thanks to Ray Rodrigues’ bill this year, now everyone is guaranteed the right to speak by simply following the appropriate protocol. There’s always room for improvement. But transparency is one area where Florida is already moving in the right direction.
Thanks to those who submitted their ideas:
Mary Baron—civic leader and philanthropist; Joe Bernard—COO, Physicians Regional Healthcare System; Barbara Berry—board member, Collier County Public Schools; Dwight Brock—Clerk of Courts, Collier County; Andrea Clark Brown—architect; Michael Brown—senior recruiter, BanyanBrown Solutions; Clyde Butcher—photographer; Bob Cacioppo—founder and producing artistic director, Florida Repertory Theatre; Denise Cobb—philanthropist; Eileen Connolly-Keesler—president and CEO, Community Foundation of Collier County; Kristen Coury—founder and producing artistic director, Gulfshore Playhouse; Joe Cox—attorney, Akerman Senterfitt; Harlan J. Dam—president, Imperial Golf Estates Homeowners Association; Jeanne Dozier—board member, Lee County Public Schools; Donna Fiala—commissioner, Collier County Commission; Mary Fischer—chair, Lee County Public Schools; Heather Fitzenhagen—state representative, District 78; Debra Frenkel—executive director/founder, Freedom Waters Foundation; Mickey Gargan—state committeewoman, Collier County Democratic Party; Marty Harrity—council member, City of Sanibel Island; Frank Haskell—founder, Barbara’s Friends Cancer Fund; Brad Havemeier—president, Gulfshore Insurance; Lavigne Kirkpatrick—chair, Florida Board of Nursing; Matthew Kragh—architect; Colleen Kvetko—president and CEO, Shamrock Bank of Florida; Lisa Lefkow—executive vice president, Habitat for Humanity of Collier County; John Long—artist; Barbara Mainster—executive director, Redlands Christian Migrant Association; Gail Markham—CPA and founding partner, Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Company, P.A.; Janet Martin—council member, City of Bonita Springs; Jacke McCurdy—retired executive; Nancy McGovern—board member, Lee Memorial Health System; Stephanie McIntosh—member services administrator, Mediterra Community Association; Bill Meek—owner, Harmon-Meek Gallery; Cathleen Morgan—board member, Lee County Public Schools; R. Wayne Mullican—commissioner, Volunteer Florida; Jim Nathan—CEO, Lee Memorial Health System; Kathie O’Brien—operations manager, Inn of Naples; Brenda O’Connor—senior vice president, The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce; Liesa Priddy—commissioner, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Elaine Reed—executive director, Naples Historical Society; Sam Saad—council member, City of Naples; Larry Sacher—council member, City of Marco Island; Thomas Scott—board member, Lee County Public Schools; Cynthia Sherman—philanthropist; Elliot Singer—managing director, Fairview Advisors; Ted Soliday—executive director, Naples Airport Authority; John Sorey—mayor, City of Naples; Sandy Stilwell—CEO, owner, Stilwell Enterprises & Restaurant Group; Matt Sutton—chairman, David Lawrence Center Young Executives Committee; Vicki Tracy—director, The Arlington; Kristin Vaughn—business development, estates and appraisals, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers; Chris Vernon—attorney, Vernon-Healy; Dr. Allen Weiss—CEO, NCH Healthcare System; Gail Williams—chief diversity officer, Hodges University; Sallie Williams—president, owner, The Williams Consulting Group