Walkable West Palm Beach


A better way to develop the Palm Harbor Marina site

According to the Palm Beach Post, Palm Harbor Marina has two options before the City: The original proposal that would conform to a 75 foot height limit, and a revised proposal that would create a parking podium to internalize parking, but in doing would rise to a height of 92 feet.

Earlier this month, I covered the original proposal (75 feet) and discussed some of the pros and cons. I wrote that, compared to what could have been built here under the CC-2 zoning, this is a big improvement and overall, a decent project. But my hangup has been the parking garage on the waterfront, and I suspect it’s a common sentiment. After all, who wants to look at an ugly parking garage when we could have a public use activate the space, such as people dining by the water, enjoying the views, generating economic activity and creating jobs? It appears the developer is taking some heat, as the second option is an attempt at concealing/minimizing the negative impact of the parking garage to the adjacent properties.


Folks at the Waterview Towers don’t want a tower over 75 feet tall when they bought under the assumption nothing over 75 feet tall would be built next door. That’s totally understandable. The developer wants to maximize profit and get the maximum yield from their land. Also understandable.  The general public, and I’d venture the City Commission, don’t want a parking structure along a public promenade, devaluing it. After all, the CRA plans to draw people northward along the waterfront and reactivate it. From the Old City Hall ITN:

In 2011, the CRA hired a consultant to propose design enhancements to the City’s beautiful Waterfront Park. One of the recommendations was to extend the “park” north along Flagler Drive and to connect the park with those parcels north of Banyan Blvd. In addition the goal is to create additional park land to draw pedestrians north to attractions planned for the newly expanded park areas which will extend to 3rd Street. A copy of the preliminary plan is available under separate cover.

Putting a garage in this location is anathema to this plan.

Rather than providing on-site parking, the developer could provide spaces in an off-site parking facility, such as the Old City Hall redevelopment site. Already, the developer has proposed to provide some of its parking off-site:

The applicant is proposing to pay into the City’s parking trust fund for the 32 parking spaces not provided on site, as permitted by Section 94-485(i) of the zoning code.

The City and CRA have also anticipated a shared parking arrangement with the Old City Hall site and consultants noted the capacity available and the expansion opportunities in the Banyan garage. From the Old City Hall site ITN:

The City owns a 400 space parking garage directly across the street from the Site. On February 22, 2010, Lansing Melbourne Group issued the Banyan Street Garage Demand Study and a technical memorandum on the feasibility of the vertical expansion of the garage. (See Exhibits A & B). The study indicated that the existing demand in the garage comes primarily from the Clematis Street entertainment businesses and that there is substantial capacity during daylight hours during the week. The structural analysis showed that the existing structure could accommodate the addition of another level to the garage adding 120 spaces to today’s capacity for future growth or redevelopment. Today, the garage has 162 monthly parkers (40% of capacity). A total of 97 spaces have access throughout the day and week while the remaining 65 spaces have Monday through Friday access only.

There is an opportunity for a shared parking configuration with the development to utilize some of the parking in the Banyan garage. Proposers should review this option and analyze the best parking configuration for their proposed development.

The off-site parking option would remove an ugly, dead use from the public waterfront,  while activating it with a hotel and restaurant, making the waterfront more valuable in the process. It would also be consistent with CRA plans to extend and activate the public waterfront northward.

The developer could build in the entire footprint where there is now a parking garage, allowing for more rooms and higher yield on cost, and eliminating the need for a costly structured garage with expensive car lifts. Good for the developer. And more rooms for our downtown merchants. Lastly, and importantly, there is no reason this project should go above 75 feet in this scenario. It’s a win-win scenario.

Site plan

Site plan

We are working on ways to make better use of our streets downtown, and the upcoming recommendations from the downtown walkability study will certainly include ways to slow down and make Flagler Drive a better, safer, more pleasant experience. A slower and safer Flagler Drive is easier to traverse for pedestrians, hotel patrons, and hotel valets. This should help with objections about locating parking facilities off-site, and will also be consistent with the CRA goals to draw pedestrians north.

A great waterfront is a public asset because it confers benefits to the entire community at large. We don’t create great waterfronts because we are rich. We become rich (as a community) because we create great waterfronts. This enhanced value is captured by the expanded tax base of the entire downtown, and the city as a whole.

Let’s create a great waterfront we can be proud of for years to come.

[If you agree, please forward your thoughts to the City Commission and the Mayor, and come to the Commission meeting at 5 pm if you can].




Tis’ the Season for downtown retail strategizing

It’s the time of year retailers do much of their sales; the holidays account for almost 20% of annual sales in the retail industry.  This month, I  attended a Chamber of Commerce breakfast (courtesy of the WPB Library Foundation) featuring urban retail expert Robert Gibbs, who shared the latest trends in retailing, both urban format and non-urban format. It’s been a great month to scratch my urbanism itch, as we also had Jeff Speck, author of “Walkable City”,  come to town November 18-19th (blog post to come) for a walkability summit. I’d like to relate some of Robert Gibbs’ lessons and how they might be applied to West Palm Beach, particularly in our  nascent urban retail districts such as Clematis Street and Northwood. As the talk was given at The Breakers, much of the focus was on Worth Avenue and Palm Beach retail. Mr. Gibbs praised Worth Avenue as one of the best retail streets in the country, with parallels to Rodeo Drive in LA. But much of the market data shared has applicability to West Palm Beach.

Urban retailing is on the rise, with national tenants choosing to locate in urban settings and town centers, and willing to locate in smaller spaces or unusual configurations compared to their strip mall formats. One of the most revealing statistics: 75% of retail sales happen after 5 pm. This is in contrast to the ’70s, when only 30% of retail sales happened after 5 pm. According to Mr. Gibbs, changing demographic  trends (the rise of Gen Y, more one-person households, increase of women in the workforce) have led to much less shopping during workday hours, and more shopping after work hours.  And when people come to shop, they make up their minds very quickly whether or not they want to enter your store. It takes about 8 seconds to walk past a  main street storefront, and the average person decides in 1.5 seconds whether or not to walk in.

The five trends in retail (not just urban retail), according to Gibbs Planning Group: 1. Experience 2. Convenience 3. Luxury malls/higher-end outlets 4. Urban is in 5. International tenants. We’re seeing some of these trends happen in downtown, with international tenants like H&M setting up in CityPlace. The new Palm Beach Outlets tenant mix is an example of the type of outlet center that is successful today. Convenience has to do with being able to park, and Mr. Gibbs says it’s more important to have on-street parking available than to make it free, as today’s shopper values the convenience more and is willing to pay $1 if it means being able to park on the same block as their favorite store. In other words, price parking correctly. He’s obviously a fan of Donald Shoup (mark your calendar: Shoup is coming to give a talk in Delray in May).

Experience is really about placemaking in a downtown setting. What does easy parking matter if your downtown is not a place worth arriving at? Placemaking is a somewhat ambiguous term, but it could be defined as using the street as an amenity, almost like an outdoor living room. It’s been around as long as  cities themselves, if not formalized. The best retail streets are exemplary places, whether Kings Street in Charleston, Worth Avenue on Palm Beach, Miracle Mile in Chicago,  Park Avenue in Winter Park, 5th Avenue in Naples, or Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach. These streets pay attention to details and create an experience that lures people in. That’s an experience people are willing to pay for, and it’s crucial because shoppers have a choice of many places they can drive to and shop.

How can we apply some of these ideas and trends to West Palm Beach? First of all, the nighttime experience in downtown is paramount. That means clean, safe, inviting streets that attract shoppers with an atmosphere to encourage strolling and shopping. If we want people to come downtown to shop, the storefronts need to be attractive and pull people inside. And this idea applies not just to retail but to the entire mix of uses on Clematis Street, as a few eyesores detract from the experience of the whole. We’re looking at you, Pizza Luna and 301 South Olive. Code enforcement needs to be applied to these derelict property owners. And the CRA-owned former Pizza Luna space isn’t exempt. Yes, it going to become a new cafe and that’s a positive development. But it has been empty and looked shoddy since the CRA lease with Pizza Luna ended last March, and it’s taken too long to retenant.  Field of Greens, on the other hand, is an example of a superb storefront. Attractive awning, large windows that draw you inside, quirky street furniture, and cafe seating. This is how it should be done. Another superb example of utilizing the street to draw in customers is Christi at Runway Consignment. She constantly has lots of bikes parked outside her store, and hosts fun events like wine tastings for shoppers to enjoy.

Runway Consignment Boutique, 421 south Olive Avenue

Runway Consignment Boutique, 421 south Olive Avenue

Field of Greens storefront and sidewalk

Field of Greens storefront and sidewalk

We need city staff to put time into maintenance of our streetscape in these retail districts, in particular the lighting and landscaping on Rosemary and Clematis, which are targeted primary retail streets. Too many simple maintenance issues are being neglected, like streetlights that need bulbs to be replaced. And where entrepreneurs are taking a chance and locating downtown, let’s make sure we support them by keeping the streetscape attractive. Scott Lewis landscaping has made a very positive impact to the flower beds on Clematis, but City maintained landscaping is lacking, especially around the tree pits of the newly planted palms. The rubberized mulch experiment has thankfully been abandoned as of last week. Let’s get it right and not cut corners this time. And locator markings (used to locate underground utilities) are in violation of state low-impact marking law. City staff should spend the time to research and enforce these markings, first on Clematis and Rosemary. The community has documented instances where the low impact marking law has been abused.

Lastly, parking garages. Two exciting projects are in the works: DDA projects to paint lively murals in the stairwells of the Evernia garage as well the pilot wayfinding signage by the Banyan garage on Narcissus. We need more of these projects. Our garages are in bad shape.  The City/CRA/DDA should pursue commercial liners on these garages to activate these blocks and create a more interesting and safe walk for shoppers heading downtown. This should be a component of any proposal to redevelop the old City Hall site, as it was with the Navarro-Concord proposal. We should also look to install green walls on the exterior of our unsightly garages.

This is the first impression for anyone parking downtown, and it needs to be excellent. A targeted parking strategy needs to be pursued, but that’s a topic for another day.

Parking garage in downtown Naples, FL

Parking garage in downtown Naples, FL



Exclusive look at Navarro concept for Old City Hall site

Click on picture below for full presentation.


Update: Intent to Negotitate (ITN) documents

There were initially five proposers on the site. One of them was disqualified immediately (Thoron Investments). Two of the proposers were not selected to move forward, leaving Crocker Partners and Navarro Lowrey Concord. Click the links below.

ITN 11-12-500 City Hall Reconstruction Site FINAL ITN 11-12-500 – List of Proposers Old City Hall ITN and original bidders

Image of Navarro project