Walkable West Palm Beach

Parking lot architecture in downtown West Palm Beach

7 Comments

At the Downtown Action Committee (DAC) review meeting for the Marriott Residence Inn hotel on Hibiscus street, the developer submitted this rendering, along with other elevations. It was apparent at the time that the architecture proposed was to be of the roadside, interstate exit variety: Ugly, uninspired, auto-oriented, and suburban in character. 08. DAC 13-04 Staff Report Residence Inn by marriott Porte Cochere

The applicant requested several variances to get the project built, and got them. But the main problem with the urbanity of this project is the porte cochere, which completely dominates the street level, breaks up the building street frontage, and makes the site feel scaled to autos instead of people. And a porte cochere is allowed to be built by right in the Downtown Master Plan (DMP). My comments at the time were critical of the porte cochere and I suggested an alternative approach, which was ultimately was not taken by the DAC. In the DAC’s defense, it was likely outside of their Special Review scope:

Mr. Jesse Bailey, Vice President of the Downtown Neighborhood Association,stated that he lives in City Palms and walks to work past the subject site every day. He expressed two (2) concerns about the project: 1) The Porte Cochere – Mr. Bailey said he believes that the porte cochere will be very detrimental to the public realm; the design is more of a suburban garden style hotel. He suggested that valet parking at the curb might be more appropriate; 2) Tree Canopy – Mr. Bailey said there is a real tree canopy problem downtown. He hoped that the trees on the sidewalk will be preserved. He said he would hate to see a curb cut and a parking lot where there should be a building fronting Hibiscus Street.

The result: Completely predictable. Completely ugly and un-urban.

I won’t fully dissect the architectural merits or flaws, as that’s not my background and someone else could do a better job. Several influential planners and architects retweeted my tweet, which leads me to believe other architects have similar criticisms. Perhaps they would like to comment, below.

When this is the outcome that results, some of the Zyscovich DMP regulations have to be questioned.  As someone wary of overregulating development, I realize this is a fine line to tow, but if there is one primary function of the DMP, it would seem that ensuring at least a passable frontage is it. In this case, that very minimal standard was scarcely met; very little of the site actually fronts the sidewalk to engage the public realm. Instead, we are presented with a place for cars – car parking, asphalt for queuing cars, and a massively wide curb cut breaking up the sidewalk. Here’s a counter example of how to do things right, from Naples, Florida (The Inn on Fifth). Notice how the building comes up to the sidewalk. This building has a clear face – it is clearly oriented toward the street and sidewalk. And active uses at the ground floor engage the street and make it interesting to walk past.

innonfifth

It is disconcerting to see that this project was essentially built by right in such an un-urban fashion. If there is one thing the DMP should insist upon, it is buildings that help define and shape a quality public realm, as that is what creates public benefits to the neighborhood as a whole. Streets are places for people that should be treated as outdoor living rooms, with the buildings framing them, forming the walls. In this case, there is a gaping car park where there should be a permeable entrance/exit onto the street that enlivens it.

Most culpable in this bad design is the Zyscovich DMP itself, as the porte cochere can be built by right, and the DAC special review likely had little it could do to improve this unfortunate design.

We shouldn’t be so desperate for hotel development that we forget about the long-term vision of creating a great city in the process.

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7 thoughts on “Parking lot architecture in downtown West Palm Beach

  1. Essentially, it boils down to leadership. Some leaders envision the city they want; master plan the components that will create that city; and then set-out to gather the strategic partnerships that will bring that vision to fruition. City Place, City Hall and other components of WPB that contribute to a walkable urban environment are the results of such leadership. Other leaders wait for, or merely encourage, developers to propose projects without vision or master planning and then scramble to negotiate minor concessions on projects that were conceived independently. This hotel, All Aboard Florida, and many projects currently in the pipeline that will affect WPB forever are the results of this type of leadership. WPB is no longer in control of its walkable future.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post Jesse. I guess if the hotel doesn’t make it, it could easily be converted to a prison. Just put a chain link fence and some barb wire up and voila. I agree with Tim that there needs to be true leadership to make a difference.

    There is not an infinite amount of space to build these kinds of projects, so every one of them is important. They will be there for the next 50 years so once you build something, you can’t take it back. It’s a shame that you will exit Cityplace on Hibiscus you have to pass this new suburban Marriot, Trump Towers, The Bellsouth Building, St James and St. Andrews on your way to the waterfront. None of these buildings have a single admirable architectural trait to them. This project could have been a step in the right direction, but instead it was a step back. This project, along with the building of another garage at the Palm Harbor Marina site on our waterfront, and the new proposed 10 story structure on Gardenia between Olive and Dixie with 8 stories of parking are all going in the wrong direction for a downtown with such potential.

    At a time when we have the city is talking the talk of urban revitalization, and walkability we see these horrible projects coming out of the ground. I would really like to see them “walk the walk”.

    It is very disappointing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The contrast in the two photos, The Marriott compared to the Inn on Fifth, is more eloquent than words! If the people who have the power to make or kill this plan could see those two photos, perhaps they would be inclined to made the Marriott change their design. Thank you for showing us a better way.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. How come this project wasn’t required to be built to the street? The hotel could have an entrance and exit passageways with the building built to the street.

    Everyone worries about over regulation and code complexity, but ensuring walkability is really simple. Build to the street, majority of the ground level frontage needs to have active uses that interest pedestrians, on-street parking, and street trees. How difficult is it to have a code that requires this.

    Why does the City allow buildings in the down town core not be built to the street?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Baron,
      I couldn’t agree more. It’s puzzling to me that the code allowed for this porte cochere by right. I thought we had an urban, form-based code. I’m starting to wonder if the new Zsycovich downtown master plan is inferior to the Duany Plater Zyberk DMP that preceded it.

      Like

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