Few people have played a bigger role in the changing face of downtown Naples than Anthony Solomon. From his perch atop The Ronto Group, Solomon is overseeing two of the most substantial residential developments the city has seen in the past 15-plus years. Naples Square and a condominium community on Central Avenue sit at the center of a new wave of building located just off Fifth Avenue South. And their gravity might be substantial enough to create their own commercial and dining ecosystem. (This is in addition to two high-rises in Bonita Bay and more than a thousand lots in the Orangetree area.) Before he could launch sales for the new Central Avenue development, however, which will put hundreds of condos starting at $500,000-plus and likely soaring to more than $1 million on the market, Solomon and his team faced what was surprisingly the greatest struggle of all: coming up with its name. They eventually christened it Eleven Eleven Central, a play on its address.
On the trouble with finding the right name
“Honestly, naming things is the hardest part of the building process. So many things are already taken. You need to make sure you can get a website domain name in the name you like and that no one owns the copyright. You want it to evoke a certain feeling when people hear it. Sometimes it’s easier. Naples Square made sense because of where it is, but there are so many other things that use the name Naples that aren’t anywhere near the city. Or people will say ‘beach’ even though it’s miles away. You get a little jaded with the process by the end of it. Sometimes it will end up being a name you reject at the beginning but that over time seems like it just fits.”
On moving buyers from Old Naples across U.S. 41
“Now, I think people believe in what we are doing on Central because they can see what Naples Square is. But at first it took some convincing people that U.S. 41 isn’t the Berlin Wall. But when you think about it there are a lot of advantages, including that you can get more for the money. Something like mobility is so much easier. You can get right on Goodlette-Frank and avoid 41 all together if you need to go north.”
On competing with himself for buyers
“You try to make sure you have a good mix so that you aren’t cannibalizing your own buyers. At this point now with Naples Square we are starting to build bigger and bigger units. And that was by design. We adapted as we sold to what the market was demanding. We keep changing the finishes. Some of our buyers are actually people who bought in early but now are wanting something bigger but without having to spend $2 million across 41. We think it’s great value to those buyers.
“Central Avenue is going to start back off with units that are a little smaller, in the $500,000 range. More affordable. The outside will be different and the amenity package more robust to attract that resort-style market.”
On the changing look of homes in Southwest Florida
“People come down with a vision of what Florida should be like. (Matthew Kragh, the architect for both Ronto projects downtown as well as many others) has a look that’s very popular now. It goes away from the heavy Tuscan look. It’s more beachy, bright and light. It works because people want cleaner and more modern, but at the same time more casual. People’s lifestyles are more informal now and they want that reflected in their living spaces. They want large, open and informal spaces. But at the same time, they are very sophisticated about the finishes. These are wealthy people. Anyone who can spend $500,000 for a second home is a wealthy person. And that means they can be quite particular.”
On developing parcels where other developers failed
“Our track record certainly helps us. We’ve been developing buildings in this area since the 1970s on Marco Island. We try to under-promise and over-deliver. But the key is to really start off with a plan you believe is executable. It has to be at the right price for the market and the right price for the developer. We saw opportunities for places that checked all the right boxes, but in a terrible market. We are fortunate to have a stable of good capital partners that we’ve worked with for a long time. So when we see a good deal, we can make a move and have no trouble convincing them.”