Skip to main content Help Control Panel

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

Local «   Ave Maria «  

Ave Maria Town Florida offering blessing to new busineses

Register with us in one easy step!

Residents now call it home. Students are next. Businesses and local agencies are ready to serve them all. It’s the beginning for Ave Maria, the new Collier County town and Catholic university, which starts classes Aug. 27.

You might call it a leap of faith.

Renee and Alan Beckner believe in Ave Maria so much, they’re opening a business in and moving to the new town that’s rising in eastern Collier County.

First they will open a customer jewelry store — their second in Collier County — later this year. Next year, they plan to move to Ave Maria.

“We have a model that we’ve picked out and a lot that we reserved,” said Renee, who co-owns Beckner Jewelry & Repairs with her husband.

They’re not the only ones with faith. A handful of like-minded believers plan to open their doors during the next few months, including a coffee shop, women’s clothier, gas station, dentist’s office and spa. A bookstore and a university visitors’ center already are open.

With only a few dozen closings on homes in Ave Maria, there are few residents to draw from today as customers. But it doesn’t seem to faze the pioneering businesses that have committed to the town, where streets have religious-inspired names such as Anthem Parkway and Ave Maria Boulevard.

Ave Maria has opened its doors to all denominations and all types of businesses.

Renee Beckner happens to be Catholic, but her husband is Methodist.

“He doesn’t have to show the non-Catholic card,” she said. “There is no unique blessing he had to get from anybody. It’s a town for anybody.”

Although it will be years before the town and surrounding Catholic university are built out, the Beckners expect to be busy right away. They see business coming from the hundreds of students who attend Ave Maria University, the construction workers building the town, and the surrounding neighborhoods, including Golden Gate Estates.

“How many times in your lifetime do you get to say you opened a business in a town that never existed before? I mean new towns aren’t built every day,” Beckner said.

The couple didn’t consider a second store until Ave Maria came along.

“We just saw it as a great opportunity,” Beckner said.

The town and university are being built off Camp Keais Road on 5,000 acres of old farm fields and pastures. At build-out, the town is expected to have 11,000 homes and about 25,000 residents. Enrollment at the university could reach 6,000 students.

Jeanne Rush, owner of The Secret Ingredient, an Indiana-based women’s clothier, will open one of the first businesses in La Piazza, Ave Maria’s town center.

Rush calls the project “an incredible spiritual adventure.”

She recalls the exact day — Aug. 7, 2005 — that she e-mailed Barron Collier Cos., the managing partner for development, about leasing a storefront.

She held a sidewalk sale outside the store’s future home at the town’s official opening in mid-July. Business was brisk that day, but when the store opens in November, she knows she will draw from a smaller crowd. Quickly turning a profit from this venture isn’t her No. 1 concern.

“This is a store from the heart,” she said. “This was not a business decision.”

Rush, a Catholic, also has bought property in the Emerson Park-section of the town as a home for herself and her father.

Many of the first businesses opening at Ave Maria have other locations, so they’re not depending on the town to be their lifeblood.

Established businesses include Lutgert Insurance, Florida Community Bank, Island Bike and Dental Health Group, plus Cilantro Tamales, a Mexican restaurant chain, and WilsonMiller, a longtime Naples engineering firm.

“We will have hundreds of jobs out there in the not-too-distant future — almost immediately,” said Blake Gable, a vice president for real estate with Barron Collier Cos.

Miles away in Immokalee, there are restaurants, grocery stores, hardware stores and pharmacies.

Shannon Morton, a young mother who expects to move to Ave Maria in January, works as a preschool teacher in Immokalee. She’s not too concerned about having to travel to buy groceries or other basic needs. She’s been commuting 90 miles from Naples to Immokalee for her job.

“I will be saving miles and money,” she said.

Before moving to Ave Maria, Mike O’Shea drove from Tampa to Naples for work. Soon, he will be able to walk to his job. He works for Legatus, a networking group for Catholic chief executive officers, which will open an office in Ave Maria in November. A few of his co-workers plan to move to the town, too.

David Eysaman, 39, an associate manager of Cracker Barrel off Collier Boulevard, will close on a home in Emerson Park in the next few months.

“It’s going to be a 40-minute ride for me to work,” he said. “But it’s well worth it. It’s going to be a great community.”

Ultimately, the town is expected to create 10,795 jobs, paying out nearly $389 million in annual salaries. The average wage is expected to top $36,000.

On Aug. 8, Arthrex, headquartered at the Creekside Commerce Park in North Naples, announced plans to expand its manufacturing operations to Ave Maria, bringing hundreds of new jobs to the town. It’s the first major employer to make such a commitment.

The company, a maker of medical devices, plans to purchase 12 acres in a commercial area off Camp Keais Road for the new plant, which should open by early 2009. Other large employers are expected to follow in its footsteps.

Florida Community Bank will bring about 30 jobs to Ave Maria when it moves its headquarters to the town center in January or February.

The three-story building includes a new branch, which the bank hopes to open by November.

“We don’t expect the branch to be profitable right away,” said Stephen Price, the bank’s president.

The move from Immokalee — where the bank was founded in 1923 — won’t be easy, he said.

“It was probably one of the most difficult decisions we’ve ever made. Our bank has grown from $1.5 million in total assets when it came here to about a billion-dollar bank,” Price said.

But the bank’s growth hasn’t come from the small migrant farming town of Immokalee. It has come from its offices up and down Florida’s west coast.

The move will help the bank recruit senior executives, who have been reluctant to locate in Immokalee because it’s not “aesthetically pleasing,” Price said.

Competition looms. Fifth Third Bank plans to locate in the town, too.

“We will have to share the business. But we hope to get established before they arrive,” Price said.

Lutgert Insurance, one of the largest insurance agencies in Southwest Florida with 85 employees, expects to open its Ave Maria office in November.

Initially, the office will have five employees. Within the next few years, that could double, said Bud Hornbeck, president and CEO of Lutgert Insurance.

The office will “hit the ground running” because the company already has clients in eastern Collier County, many of them involved in agriculture.

The new office also will target residents, students and business owners in Ave Maria.

“We can be a part of history, part of a tremendous growing opportunity,” Hornbeck said. “We think Ave Maria will do extremely well and grow — the university and the town.”

The Dental Health Group, based in Miami, is rapidly expanding in Florida. The new Ave Maria office is generating a lot of interest from dental assistants and hygienists who are eager to relocate to the town, said Maritza Fernandez, a recruiter.

“We’ve done no advertising,” she said. “I’m just getting a lot of e-mail.”

The office will start with five or six employees. One day it could employ twice that many.

While commercial development often follows rooftops, the town has generated a lot of early interest, Gable said. Thousands of square feet of commercial space is either under construction or in the midst of development. Twenty-five businesses have committed to locating at Ave Maria, and there are another 10 deals in the works, Gable said.

In about a year, a 28,000-square-foot supermarket is expected to open. Nearby, there will be a pizza parlor (no, it’s not Domino’s in case you’re wondering), a smoothie business and an Irish pub.

A pharmacy is coming and so is a hardware store, a health clinic and a hotel. A second book store is in the works and the town will have its own fire station with offices for emergency services and the sheriff.

“Everything you need is going to be there,” Gable said. “That was always the goal.”

For the Beckners, it seems Ave Maria is the answer to their prayers. They see it as a good place to live and work — and to one day retire.

Staff writer Liam Dillon contributed to this story.


Business is booming

More than 25 businesses have signed leases in the town of Ave Maria. They are:

Ave Maria University Administration & Visitors Center; Island Bike Shop; Beckner Jewelry & Repairs; Ave Maria Utility Co.; Pulte Homes Corp.; Lutgert Insurance; Legatus; Ave Maria Development; WilsonMiller Inc.; Cheffy, Passidomo, Wilson & Johnson

The Bean at Ave Maria — Coffee Shop; Cilantro Tamales; Dental Health Group; Emergency Physicians of Naples; Club Car; Ave Maria University Bookstore; The Secret Ingredient; Salon D’Maria – Spa; Red Rabbit Convenience Store; China Gourmet; Pack & Ship; Subway; Lozano’s Mexican Restaurant; Pizza Shack; City Nails; Dry Cleaners.

In the coming weeks, the town’s developer expects to sign additional leases with an Irish pub, an Italian restaurant, a gift shop, a bakery, a pizzeria, a smoothie shop, a grocery store and a toy store.

These businesses have purchased or will buy land to locate in Ave Maria: Arthrex, BP, Fifth Third Bank and Florida Community Bank.
444 1 rate


Ave Maria Town Florida offering blessing to new busineses Residents now call it home. Students are next. Businesses and local agencies are ready to serve them all. It’s the beginning for Ave Maria, the new Collier County town and Catholic university, which starts classes Aug. 27.