Photo credit to the Promenade at Bonita Bay.

The Promenade at Bonita Bay once was considered the place to shop with its unique assortment of boutiques and relaxing European style setting. Following the recession and what some say was mismanagement, a mass exodus took place a few years ago, leaving this once thriving marketplace a near ghost town. This fall, The Promenade begins its comeback as a definitive destination in Southwest Florida. The resurgence is anchored by Nonna DeRosa’s Gourmet Market and Restaurant.

DeRosa’s is targeted to open in December and will be an 18,000-square-foot, meandering, old-world style marketplace with multiple storefronts. The intertwined “shops” within DeRosa’s will include a deli, bakery, gelato and coffee bar, fresh market, butcher shop, seafood counter, pasta ria, wine seller and gourmet gift basket center.

A 275-seat restaurant will serve authentic Italian dishes, incorporating homemade pasta and hearty sauces, just like “Nonna DeRosa” made. A Tuscan-style patio bar and sitting area by the water is designed for relaxation.

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The brainchild behind DeRosa’s is Francis Cuomo, who draws upon his Italian heritage as inspiration for the market and restaurant offerings. Cuomo grew up in a large family (one of 10 siblings) and was constantly surrounded by the savory smell of authentic Italian cooking. His mother, Rose Ann, will be helping out in the bakery, making her famous pies and cakes. “It’s a lot of old, family recipes,” says Cuomo, who has degrees in both business and culinary arts and boasts more than 35 years in the food business. “In Southwest Florida, there is nothing like this. It’s authentic Italian with a tinge of international fl air.” Cuomo said he is excited to help restore the prominence once enjoyed by The Promenade. The ailing retail center was purchased at auction by RLR Investments in July 2012.

“The owners are being diligent to make it a destination again and bring back the spark and the excitement of when it was first developed,” Cuomo says. The 47-unit plaza dwindled to about 40 percent occupancy in recent years but is now on its way to a full comeback, according to Promenade Managing Director Karen Johnson-Crowther. She predicts The Promenade will be full by this time next year. “There really isn’t anything that has the same ambiance The Promenade has,” Johnson-Crowther says. “It’s cozy and unique. We’re not trying to compete with Coconut Point. We want to be an alternate type of shopping experience where you can get some unique, very high-end products.”

Although DeRosa’s isn’t opening for another month or two, The Promenade is already starting to fi ll up. Johnson- Crowther says she gets calls daily. Kay’s on the Beach opened in September, and Signatures clothing boutique is scheduled to open later this month. Signatures, which carries “trend-smart” styles for women in their thirties and beyond, started in The Promenade 11 years ago but relocated to The Mercato in North Naples two years ago when The Promenade became a ghost town. “It killed us to leave,” says owner Patty DeMauro. “The Promenade is beautiful. It has a very European atmosphere and is very walkable.”

Signatures snagged a prime spot right next to DeRosa’s. DeMauro jokes her customers may need to buy larger sizes after sampling all the market and restaurant has to offer. She and other Promenade tenants say the new owner, along with property manager Royal Shell Real Estate, is giving The Promenade the attention needed to become a premier destination again. RLR has invested thousands in repairs and improvements, including fresh paint, landscaping, and tile and roof repairs. A plaza-style fountain sits near the east entrance for DeRosa’s, and a meandering stream flows through the development. Wade Lowe, general manager for Roy’s Restaurant, can’t wait to see more people strolling by his front door. “We’re as excited as it gets,” he says of the revitalization. “The more feet that are walking around, the better.”

Roy’s is among the few tenants who never gave up on The Promenade, anchoring the south end of 15 years. The restaurant offers “Hawaiian Fusion” cuisine, which differs from DeRosa’s niche. Lowe says there is a buzz among his regular customers, who are eager to sample the fresh market offerings of DeRosa’s. He envisions The Promenade again becoming a vibrant place to shop and dine. “A lot of the vacant spots will get filled as soon as DeRosa’s opens,” Lowe predicts. “The new owners are taking a lot of responsibility to see that it looks nice. They really want to make The Promenade what it was, if not better.”

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