Protest over controversial street redevelopment

Posted at 4:12 PM, Apr 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-07 19:32:17-04

A controversial street redevelopment project in Naples sparked a protest as the project got underway Thursday. 

City leaders are redesigning Central Avenue as part of its "Blue Zone" initiative, to make it easier for bicyclists and pedestrians to get across town. The project calls for bike lanes to be added, along with more on-street parking and some roundabouts at intersections.

As Naples mayor Bill Barnett and other city officials dug shovels into the ground along Central Avenue in a groundbreaking ceremony, Rick Johnson was one of several protesters nearby opposed to the project. 

"I have five attorneys on staff, don't worry!" Johnson shouted into a megaphone. "This is not over."

Johnson is concerned that his auto repair shop on the corner of Central and 10th Street North will lose business with the project's traffic routing changes. 

"If you're going west down Central Avenue, you have to cross U.S. 41, go up to 8th Street, go around a roundabout, come back to 41, go through 41, and then you get into my business," Johnson said. 

Gregg Strakaluse, director of Streets & Stormwater for the CIty of Naples, said that Johnson's concerns have been heard by the city.

"We're actually widening the driveway entrance into his facility," Strakaluse said. "So we're making significant accommodations to make sure that not just his business, but that other businesses along the corridor continue to thrive."

Johnson insists that customers will struggle to get to his business.

"I'm not going to be able to get cars into my bays, and trucks into my bays to do work," Johnson said. "And they say that they're pro-business? I don't think so. They're anti-business."

Barnett said he believes businesses will be pleasantly surprised when the project wraps up in September.

"They have done more studies, and more surveys and more traffic counts," Barnett said. "It will work."

Johnson said that he was provided the opportunity to give some input on the project, but that his ideas weren't used. He told Fox 4 that he is now considering legal action against the city.