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Business owners protest Naples Central Ave. construction

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NAPLES, Fla.- Protestors gathered on Thursday to oppose proposed changes to Central Avenue from 9th Street to Goodlette Frank Road.

The angry group picketed the Naples City Council’s groundbreaking ceremony for the construction improvement project.

“It’s going to run into hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. It’s going to run into big dollars,” said Rick Johnson, owner of the Rick Johnson Auto & Tire, a store sitting on the same spot along Central Avenue for 20 years.

Johnson believes the new $4.3 million renovation will hurt his business by limiting access to his shop.

Central Avenue is a major roadway into downtown Naples, running half the length of the city at seven blocks long.

The project will reduce the road from four to two lanes, add medians and round-a-bouts at several intersections. It will also add landscaping and make it more accessible for bicyclists and
pedestrians as part of the Blue Zone Initiative to promote healthier living.

“This was not about beautification, this is about lane reduction, this is not about accommodating the businesses,” said former Naples city council member Teresa Heitmann.

Heitmann, who voted against the project, was holding signs alongside Johnson on Thursday, furious with council’s decision.

“What I have heard from the businesses today is, ‘we were told it was happening and that’s it,'” Heitmann said.

Naples Mayor Bill Barnett says the city has attempted to work with Johnson and other business owners and maintains the project will help, not hurt the area.

“We have worked with him every step of the way and if he’s going to remain out there and be a protester so be it, this project is rolling,” Barnett said.

The project will take about six months to complete.  Johnson says if he sees a drop in business, he will take legal action against the city.