Naples, it seems, isn’t often found by design. People tend to come to it serendipitously: Newcomers are often introduced during a getaway from Florida’s other coast or while visiting friends. Naples quietly works her magic, revealing a lifestyle that’s slower paced than, say, Miami or Fort Lauderdale, but just as glamorous and vibrant. The city’s Gulf of Mexico backdrop mesmerizes, and with its small-town attitude and big-league amenities it offers the best of both worlds.
Sergio and Kimberly Segarra discovered how much they looked forward to escaping to Naples soon after moving full time to Miami Beach. “We noticed we were spending our holidays and getaways in Naples,” says Sergio, an emergency-room physician. Naples’ final act of entice- meant was a simple one: a homespun Christmas parade that reminded the couple of their western Pennsylvania roots. “Most people may consider it a silly little parade, but we totally enjoyed it,” Sergio says.
For Don and Angela Smith, it was more like love at first sight with this Gulf of Mexico city. “We had a [second] home in Boca Raton, which we visited sporadically for 14 years,” says Don, the former CEO of Burger King and a past owner of the Perkins and Friendly’s restaurant chains. “We kept hearing how great the west coast of the state was.” After scheduling a corporate meeting at the Ritz-Carlton, set along Naples’ 10-mile sweep of palm-fringed beaches, he discovered “Naples was even better than we’d heard. We met with a broker, who took us around to the golf- course communities. We really liked Bay Colony, and locked into a lot.”
The Ritz, which opened in 1985, is often credited with giving Naples its luster. Its founders saw Naples as a little town on the verge of greatness, close to a brand-new international airport in Fort Myers and positioned along the newly completed Interstate 75, connecting Michigan’s Canadian border all the way to Miami. The resort became a classic build-it-and-they-will-come success story. Other luxury properties followed, as did business and leisurely pursuits catering to the well-to-do: golf courses, gourmet restaurants, high-end boutiques at Waterside Shops and the Venetian Village, and the arrival of famed city planner Andres Duany from Miami, who in 1996 redesigned Fifth avenue South, Naples’ downtown.
Today, international house hunters are among the many buyers taking full advantage of favorable currency exchange rates and home prices that have dropped 50 percent since their 2005 peak. Anita Colletti, an agent with John R. Wood Realtors, has helped several European and Russian buyers find investment properties. Thecurrent listings range from under $100,000 for distressed properties to nearly $22 million for a rambling beachfront estate in Port Royal, the city’s toniest neighborhood. Homes priced around $200,000 “are selling as soon as they’re listed,” Colletti says.
Naples’ most coveted neighborhoods are west of U.S. Highway 41, placing them between the major traffic corridor and the Gulf. Older communities like the Moorings and Coquina Sands offer 1970s and newer single-family homes along banyan-tree-shaded streets, and many access the Gulf via canals and back bays. “It’s surprising when a single-family home west of 41 sells below $500,000,” Colletti says. “I just sold one in the Moorings for $390,000.”
The Smiths’ Bay Colony home is in the 2,100-acre Pelican Bay, one of Naples’ first master-planned communities, offering gated neighborhoods near the Ritz, the Waterside Shops and the beach. Their Naples lifestyle includes golf and serving as trustees of the Naples Winter Wine Festival. Don also creates upscale restaurants, such as angelina’s and Naples newcomer agave. Food is a big part of the Naples lifestyle, and the wine festival has also introduced many chefs and vintners to this Gulf city, including Fabrizio Aielli, whose Sea Salt has earned national kudos.
The Segarras scoured Naples for a home before buying next door to the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples’ second Ritz- Carlton. Their penthouse condominium in Tiburon is scheduled for completion in December, just in time for the annual Christmas parade and the PGA Tour’s Franklin Templeton Shootout golf tournament with Greg Norman. “We’re not golfers, but we’re going to take lessons,” Sergio says.
Both the Segarros and the Smiths cite Mercato, a shopping, dining as well as an entertainment center anchored by Whole Foods Market (Naples’ first) and the luxe Silverspot movie theater, among their favorite venues. Hailed as Naples’ uptown, this mixed-use development also offers one- to three-bedroom condos. About half of the 92 homes in the first phase have sold. Undoubtedly helping sales are adjusted prices — from $400,000 to $1 million for a 2,900-square-foot penthouse — that better reflect the market.