Walkable West Palm Beach

Future downtown park gets curves and striations

A pocket park is coming to the corner of Fern and Dixie that should provide a nice amenity to residents of the Alexander Lofts and The Alexander apartment buildings.

I would expect many of these residents to own dogs, so this park should be a nice gathering space for residents with pets. What other features would you like to see at this park?

Story by Tony Doris of the Palm Beach Post.
Source: Future downtown park gets curves and striations


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Parking lot architecture in downtown West Palm Beach

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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First Bank of the Palm Beaches near completion on Quadrille and Dixie

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First Bank of the Palm Beaches near completion on Quadrille and Dixie

First Bank of the Palm Beaches is building a new bank building at the corner of Quadrille and Dixie. The building is on track to be the first new construction delivery downtown since the housing bust.

Walkable West Palm Beach will feature an interview with President and CEO Jay Shearouse later this month.

PS – Notice the traffic lane closed on the south side of Quadrille Boulevard. Just a construction closing, but imagine if this were a row of parallel parking and the benefits for walkability and viability of the adjacent businesses.


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Evernia Place update

Evernia Place is coming along. Vertical construction has finished and windows are being put in, and exterior paint starting.

 

 

Evernia place construction topped out

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What billionaire Jeff Greene knows that our downtown master plan does not

[Join us next week for the first ever Walkable Wednesday happy hour from 5:30 – 6:30 pm on January 29th at Bradley’s!]

I live downtown in a mixed-use building delivered to market in 2009. It’s a wonderful place to live, but as so many buildings downtown, the ground floor commercial space has struggled; in fact, the entire ground floor has remained vacant since it was built. Then I saw this notice on one of the vacant storefronts:

jeff greene permit convert retail space city palms

Building permit

So it looks like my mixed-use building may become single-use: residential. Jeff Greene’s group is converting ground floor commercial space into residential loft units. I welcome this development because it means people occupying these spaces and more street surveillance, a positive for the street and the neighborhood. Would I have preferred to have a restaurant or corner store at one of these spaces? Sure. But those uses are not market supported currently, and I’d much rather have a space be occupied than empty.

Walk downtown and observe which buildings have successful, well occupied ground floor space and which do not. Those buildings with large commercial space struggle to lease space (The Strand, The Prado) whereas The Whitney and One City Plaza have successfully leased up the smaller live/work spaces at ground floor. Some of these live/work lofts are used as residences, and some are affordable storefronts for entrepreneurs who want to try a business. The strength of these live/work units is that they can be used as commercial space or residential. This flexibility is resiliency; if the original use intended is no longer feasible, it’s possible to build out the space to try something else.

But what about undesirable uses making for bad neighbors? Spillover effects such as noise need not be dictated by a restrictive code. If there’s one thing condominium associations do well, it is carefully restricting and regulating what types of businesses are permitted in their commercial space. Condo boards are going to be more restrictive and protective of the building than a planner could ever hope to be! The appropriate level at which to regulate the ground floor uses is that of the condominium association.

The West Palm Beach Downtown Action Committee has wisely decided to loosen some of the use restrictions along Rosemary Avenue to allow for commercial office space instead of requiring retail space. A real estate broker is moving into the ground floor of 610 Clematis along Rosemary as a result. Planners need to be less concerned with what goes on inside private space, but more concerned about how private space interacts with the public realm – its interface. To speak as an economist, the former is private good, whereas the latter is a public good (nonexcludable, nonrival). Having active uses at ground floor and street activity is desirable, but should be driven by what the market demands, rather than the dictates of a demand-forecast algorithm. 

As fellow blogger Edward Erfurt has pointed out, rather than requiring mixture of uses vertically in a building, we can also achieve mixed use horizontally. We shouldn’t get too insistent on requiring mixed-use buildings, but we should insist on a very good frontage and activity at the street level, whatever the use. That’s what makes for great streets.

 

 

Evernia Place, first downtown development out of the ground since the recession, is rising fast

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The construction site is busy and the fifth floor concrete is ready to be poured. Read more about Evernia Place at link below.

Fifth floor ready to be poured

Fifth floor ready to be poured

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