A Long And Winding Discourse On What I Understand So Far About Planning An Economic Development Area

I don’t currently live in Bonita Springs, although I do work there, and most of the events I attend are in the downtown area, so I guess my interest in its development is partly just from working with planners and civil engineers in the past. Any way, the downtown area is an interesting focal point for development, because to me, that is the thing that is most unique about the city. The surroundings are starting to look like any where else along the I-75/US 41 North South corridor; Old 41, especially between Terry and Bonita Beach Road, is the tie to the history of the town. I don’t know if it is going the way of, for example, Naples’ 5th Ave S, in that as economic development projects sink more money into the area, some of the quirky charm is priced out of the strip, (e.g. Lady from Haiti, Wynn’s Supermarket, etc), but I suspect over time, that might prove the case. I like the plans for the development, at a first pass glance, although I’m not sure if the proposed roundabouts are at Pennsylvania or Dean, and I’m not well versed enough in how they will work out in reality.

I think it’s interesting that a common thread in Florida community plans, is that they want to preserve some component of Florida’s agricultural heritage, which is something that is not just its past, but also its present, as can be seen by the truckloads of oranges heading south on Old 41 from Bonita Beach road. There are long time citizens of the area who have family who have been uprooted from the area East of I-75 who don’t like the idea of development of land that once belonged to their families. That’s part of the area’s history, too; the amount of land acquired and set aside for conservation is something of a common goal in plans, but I can’t help feel that in some cases, such as displacing families, that it’s sometimes over-reaching, and perhaps a little misguided. When “We want to preserve this for our children” turns into “You’re family is going to have to go”, well, I can certainly see where that is going to cause some hard feelings, and justifiably so. The unfortunate thing is, the people moving into the area aren’t as concerned with that aspect of the history; they want their mcmansions, and the little charms of a way of life that they might not understand. They like the small town charm, but come from the big cities, and might not be familiar with what makes that charm: the people who have family history in the area.

The reason for going into that is, well, you have this little gem of a quirky little downtown area that will be the focus of economic development, one way or another. There are 2 things I think are challenges: one is trying to maintain that sense of community, while at the same time welcoming the ever increasing number of newcomers into it, and two, is how to develop this little core of the city in a way that has a positive impact on the surrounding traffic in the area that is just trying to navigate their nine to fives, usually serving the surrounding community more so than having anything directly to do with the little core of downtown economic activity.

The nature of living along a coast means that most of the traffic is going to be channeled along parallel with it, and coupled with extensive preservation areas to the opposite side of the corridors, the funneling of traffic into limited area is a central issue of planning. US 41, Old 41, Imperial Parkway and I-75 are the 4 main N-S arteries in the area. Terry Street, Dean Street, Bonita Beach Road are the main E-W connections between the downtown area and the arteries.

A stated goal of the planners is to make the downtown area more pedestrian friendly, and to slow traffic in the economic development area.  Most of the downtown road closures due to events happen over weekends, and as it stands now, I think they do a fairly good job of routing traffic around downtown, and currently there seems to be ample parking for large events, (they haven’t paved paradise, just yet, but I suppose that’s coming). To my way of thinking, if you plan to slow traffic along one of the 4 main N-S arteries than you might want to think about how you can minimize the impact on people trying to get around the area. (Are they widening the Imperial river bridge to accommodate more lanes of traffic?). East Terry to the North of the development area is 4 lanes, and Bonita Beach Road to the South is 4 lanes. Dean Street, to the South is the only E-W access point to  a major artery, in between the two that I’m aware of.

I guess what I’m trying to grasp by writing all of this out, is are the planners simply trying to funnel traffic into the economic development area, and then have it slow down to accommodate pedestrian traffic, park and shop? (That seems to mirror Naples’ 5th Ave S district). The question to me is, okay, how do I get around that area most efficiently if I’m just a nine to fiver trying to service customers in the surrounding area. There are several routes in the downtown Naples area that route traffic around the downtown area with fewer stop signs that people who live and work in the area generally know how to avoid the mess of an overcrowded gawker tourist area. That’s the part I’m looking for in Bonita’s planning. I know I often am taking Dean Street to avoid the congestion along Terry and Bonita Beach Road, as an example of the kinds of “how to get around the tourists to get to my clients” solutions I’m looking for. As one of my bosses commented when I lived in Atlanta during an economic boom once told me “you can’t make money if you’re stuck in traffic” (okay, I paraphrased that, I don’t recall his exact words).

Anyway, this was a lot longer than I intended, I was just going to post a couple of links with a little background. Here’s the links, they’re a little old, but should give you a primer, if you’re interested.

(I’m not sure where the roundabouts are being evaluated: Terry, Pennslyvania, and Dean are variously mentioned. I still haven’t spent a lot of time looking at the actual plan that I guess I’m writing about, so mea culpa).

http://www.news-press.com/story/news/local/bonita-springs/2014/09/03/bonita-council-expected-pick-contractor-downtown/15014881/

http://www.bonitaspringsdowntownimprovements.com/

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