Skip to main content Help Control Panel

Lost? Search this Naples Florida website...|Add our search|Login   A+   A-

Local «   Ave Maria «  

More money, more jobs, more homes expected with opening of town and university - expected to create 10,795 jobs

Register with us in one easy step!

Changes are coming to Immokalee with the arrival of Ave Maria University and the surrounding town, about eight miles from the small farming hub of Collier County.

Immokalee community leaders are enthusiastic

Big-box retail stores are likely to sprout between Immokalee’s south end and Serenoa, a planned new town south of Immokalee on Immokalee Road. Along with more business comes an increase in employment opportunities.

Collier Commissioner Jim Coletta, whose district includes Immokalee, calls it “revolutionary.”

Ave Maria will have nearly 700,000 square feet of retail and service businesses, including more than 500,000 square feet of office space, 400 hotel rooms and 450 assisted living units.

Also, plans call for 148,500 square feet of civic and community space, 35,000 square feet of medical facilities, public and private schools and other community amenities, said Dolly Roberts, a spokeswoman for town developer Barron Collier Cos.

“It’s going to be a positive addition,” said Fred Thomas, a longtime Immokalee activist and chairman for both the Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency Advisory Board and Immokalee Master Plan and Visioning Committee.

Soon, Immokalee residents no longer will need to travel 40 miles to Naples or to Fort Myers to shop, Thomas said.

The stores will satisfy the needs of Ave Maria University, the town and residents of Serenoa, he said.

Depending on market response, complete development could come within 10 years, with 11,000 homes and about 25,000 residents, Roberts wrote in an e-mail.

Rick Heers, executive director of Immokalee Helping Our People in Emergencies (IHOPE) and an assistant pastor at Friendship Baptist Church in Immokalee, echoed Thomas’ enthusiasm for AMU and the town.

“I think it’s going to have an extremely positive impact in the community,” said Heers, a member of both the Immokalee CRA board and Immokalee Master Plan and Visioning Committee.

Heers, also a member of the Immokalee Enterprise Zone development agency, anticipates many AMU students will volunteer in the community, which needs just that at its schools, organizations and churches.

Similar to many Immokalee residents, Heers for years has advocated for more retail and for movie theaters.

In the long run, some leaders say, the university and the town will benefit the economy of Immokalee, including the housing market.

But some wonder aloud if the town may have a negative effect on the mom-and-pop establishments that line West Main Street, including a Haitian food market, a traditional Mexican restaurant and a Central and Latin American merchandise store.

Francisca Garcia, who has owned and operated La Michoacana Restaurant on West Main Street for almost seven years with her husband, Jose Esquivel, said in Spanish that she isn’t worried about being pushed out of business because the majority of clients at the seven-table restaurant are Immokalee residents.

Instead, Garcia sees the university and town as a benefit for her restaurant by bringing more people to Immokalee and with that, their business, she said.

While Heers hasn’t heard comments about a possible business burden, he noted that many Immokalee residents whose primary form of transportation is the bicycle will continue to shop in town rather than leaving to go to Ave Maria.

Currently, the Immokalee CRA Advisory Board is working with the Economic Development Council of Collier County in updating stores into tourist shops.

Thomas said he believes Immokalee has the potential to be an industrial hub and eco-tourism destination.

Denise Blanton, a CRA board member, said she doesn’t know what impact the university and town will have but hopes Immokalee becomes the university hub for Southwest Florida.

“I think there is plenty of opportunity for collaboration,” Blanton said, adding that the university could bring more diversity to Immokalee.

“I want the human capital that they are going to attract to the area,” Blanton said.

Richard Rice, executive director of the Immokalee Chamber of Commerce, also noted the benefits, including employment opportunities, that the university and town will bring.

“Economic development in whatever phase it comes in, it all will be good for this area,” Rice said.

There also will be an increase in different trades and services job in Immokalee, supplementing the agriculture industry.

According to the Development of Regional Impact application for Ave Maria, 10,795 jobs are expected to be generated during phase two including construction, school staff and retail.

Job-creation projections include occupations in utilities, health-care and safety management.

Yet not everyone, among them Terrie Aviles, coordinator of the community improvement Weed and Seed program, believes it will benefit Immokalee residents.

Aviles said the new employers most likely wouldn’t hire illegal immigrants or a person without a college degree.

The average annual salary projection is more than $36,000 per job in Ave Maria, totaling nearly $389 million, Roberts said.

Construction jobs are estimated at $201.1 million annually, and non-construction jobs are estimated at $187.7 million annually in the community.

Since construction began a couple of years ago, more than 1,500 jobs were generated in building and other related industries.

Ave Maria’s massive construction project has dramatically changed the labor force in Immokalee, giving packing house workers other employment options, Coletta said.

Aviles questioned what is going to happen with all of the construction workers from Immokalee once construction is finished.

“All those people will be left without jobs,” she said.

Adan Labra, a group organizer for Farmworker Association of Florida, said in Spanish that the new town has the possibility to generate employment, such as maintenance work, that Immokalee residents would be able to do.

Labra added that he also hopes Immokalee students receive more opportunities to further their education.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is hopeful.

“Our hope is that Ave Maria town and university, as entities founded upon Catholic ideals, will apply those ideals in their relationship to Immokalee ... one of the poorest communities of working people in the country ... We can only hope that the development of such a wealthy community so close to Immokalee will help break our town’s historic social isolation and bring positive economic changes to our community,” Gerardo Reyes, a member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, wrote in an e-mail.

“We are aware, however, that such an enormous undertaking as the founding of a new town can have many unintended negative consequences, especially the rapid development of a very wealthy community in such close proximity to one of such longstanding poverty,” Reyes wrote.

The coalition is concerned about housing in Immokalee, including “the elimination, without replacement, of hundreds of units of low-income rental housing.”

“We hope and trust that the leaders of Ave Maria will be mindful of these possible negative impacts and will work with us to prevent any such consequences in the months and years ahead,” Reyes wrote.

Similar to many, Bob Soter, division director for Community Outreach for the Southwest Florida Workforce Development Board Inc., is excited about the university and town.

Soter said having a Catholic university near Immokalee has the potential to create several advantages, including opportunities for economic partnerships, interaction between volunteer students and the community and employment for Immokalee residents.

In the next five to 10 years, Soter said AMU staff and students might be living in Immokalee, ultimately strengthening the community.

“I think it’s going to have a very positive effect,” Soter said.
444 1 rate


 More money, more jobs, more homes expected with opening of town and university - expected to create 10,795 jobs Changes are coming to Immokalee with the arrival of Ave Maria University and the surrounding town, about eight miles from the small farming hub of Collier County.

Immokalee community leaders are enthusiastic