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The future of Immokalee, Ave Maria, Serenoa

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Imagine: Visitors staying at a bed-and-breakfast while enjoying some birdwatching or canoeing when they visit Immokalee, 50 miles inland from Naples.

By Tracy X. Miguel

Monday, October 2, 2006

Imagine: Visitors staying at a bed-and-breakfast while enjoying some birdwatching or canoeing when they visit Immokalee, 50 miles inland from Naples.

Residents of Immokalee, Ave Maria and Serenoa not having to travel to Naples to shop at Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Bed Bath & Beyond. Instead finding big-box retail stores between Immokalee's south end and Serenoa on Immokalee Road.

Immokalee residents and officials are contemplating what they want the town to offer to its residents and visitors in the next 20 to 30 years.

Even Pope Benedict XVI is interested in how Ave Maria University and town are coming along.

Once Ave Maria University, the first Catholic University to open in the United States in more than 40 years, and its companion town open, Immokalee will be in the spotlight.

Immokalee will be in the spotlight Tuesday when the public is invited to participate in a workshop to discuss the town's future development and redevelopment.

The workshop — scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the Career and Service Center of Collier County, 750 Fifth St. S., Immokalee — is a continuation of a Sept. 19 public gathering regarding the "Illustrative Plan," a part of the Immokalee Master Plan update, now in the process of preparation.

Comments from May 8 and Sept. 19 public workshops have helped shape the plan that will be unveiled Tuesday. For more information, call Thomas Greenwood, principal planner, Comprehensive Planning Department, at 403-2323. WEBIFIED MORE COVERAGE: Read more stories about Ave Maria

The Immokalee area will change in the next few years because Ave Maria University and the town of Ave Maria will one day grow near the small farming community.

The university campus is scheduled to open to students next fall. Retail buildings and homes are expected to stagger their openings, beginning next summer. The permit for Ave Maria envisions a midsize university with 6,000 students and hotels, offices, shops, schools, medical facilities, parks, playing fields, stadiums, a 27-hole golf course, and an 18-hole championship golf course.

Collier County Commissioner Jim Coletta, whose district includes Immokalee, said Ave Maria is pushing new entities to Immokalee.

Soon there will be job opportunities and development occurring in the Immokalee community as a result of Ave Maria University and town being built about seven miles to the south.

Photo by Chad Yoder / Daily News

Most residents say changes in Immokalee have been long awaited.

Fred Thomas, a longtime Immokalee activist and chairman of the Immokalee Master Plan and Visioning Committee, which is co-sponsoring Tuesday's workshop, recalled the plan that was submitted 15 years ago and is probably still sitting on a shelf somewhere.

Now the committee, along with the consultant working on the plan, the RMPK Group, is working to redefine the master plan.

"Immokalee had a master plan before, but it never measured up to something of this magnitude," Coletta said.

Thomas believes that Immokalee has the potential to be an industrial hub.

Future ideas on the "Illustrative Plan" for the Florida Tradeport, located at Immokalee Regional Airport, are permitting vertical building construction and a runway extension to include a control tower.

Another idea illustrated on a draft master plan for the new Florida Tradeport is to request rezoning from industrial use to a planned unit development, or PUD, allowing multiple site development plan, or SDP, applications to be in process simultaneously. This area also would serve to promote business and industrial incubators.

Thomas said Ave Maria University and the town have been a benefit for Immokalee in helping Collier County commissioners understand that Immokalee needs to have a different approach in future planning.

Immokalee has to compete with other central Florida towns such as Wauchula, Lakeland and Clewiston, which also have a desire to lure industries, said Thomas.

An industrial financial feasibility study conducted by the Collier County Economic Development Council and Florida Gulf Coast University is in the plans.

Thomas said officials need to know how to attract new businesses to Immokalee.

"I think we are heading in the right direction," said Thomas.

Increasing the amount of affordable housing and road extensions in Immokalee are all part of the rough draft of the Immokalee master plan.

Plans are to continue supporting affordable housing organizations such as Front Porch Florida and Habitat for Humanity.

The Lennar Corp., which is planning a new town called Serenoa on 4,500 acres north of Ave Maria, possibly would offer some affordable housing component.

Items illustrated in the consultant's map include extension of roads, including Little League Road south to Immokalee Road and north to State Road 82, State Road 29 bypass road to connect to State Road 82 to Interstate 75, inclusion of appropriate access to Florida Tradeport and widening State Road 29 to four lanes.

Immokalee residents also would like to see an expansion of the Collier Area Transit, the public bus system, routes in Immokalee.

In the area of Wells Street and 19th Street South, residents want a professional office area, including banks and insurance firms. Also they want an expansion of existing medical services around Marion E. Fether Medical Center and a possible future hospital.

The master plan includes establishing five neighborhood centers in residential areas designed around a nonresidential anchor such as a public school or park. The centers may include post offices, pharmacies, hardware stores, bookstores and coffee shops. The centers also may include parks and athletic courts.

Other plans include supporting development of hospitality and entertainment at the Seminole Casino, including hotels, restaurants and bars.

Plans include coordinating efforts with any expected expansion of the casino.

Thomas said there is a possibility for Immokalee to become an industrial hub that is still a destination point for tourists.

Ideas for the downtown, a pedestrian environment, include ground-floor retail with offices and residential space on upper floors, new cultural facilities, including a performing arts center and smooth integration with the casino.

There is a proposed government center between Main Street East and Roberts Avenue.

The downtown area also could use major redevelopment, such as substandard housing replacement and development in the Main Street area.

Downtown's visual character and urban design standards should be held to a higher level in this area than the rest of Immokalee, according to a narrative on a document provided by The RMPK Group.

Some ideas of redevelopment at Farmers' Market are for the area to become the new tourism and cultural marketplace with weekly fruit and vegetable sales, arts and crafts and the drag racing strip at the regional race track in Immokalee off Immokalee Road East.

The Lake Trafford area is envisioned to serve as a recreation area, with fishing, boating and camping, along with environmental rehabilitation.

Among amenities that have been lacking in Immokalee are movie theaters.

Ave Maria University and town will attract that type of business that Immokalee currently doesn't have, said Thomas.

"We want to satisfy the needs in everyone in Immokalee. ... We don't want to overlook the value of the cultural diversity in Immokalee," said Thomas.


The future of Immokalee, Ave Maria, Serenoa Imagine: Visitors staying at a bed-and-breakfast while enjoying some birdwatching or canoeing when they visit Immokalee, 50 miles inland from Naples.