City Place Expansion

One of the most important and interesting issues for downtown West Palm Beach is the potential expansion of City Place. City Place itself has been a huge success and has transformed a previously run-down section of the downtown into a shopping, dining and entertainment mecca that draws crowds from all over.

City Place currently stretches from Okeechobee Blvd. toward the north for approximately 4 blocks, with the main section being the 2 blocks between Okeechobee Blvd. and Hibiscus St. The remaining 2 northern blocks, from Hibiscus St. west to Fern St., are somewhat less travelled than the main 2 blocks, as they are farther away from the main entrances and parking garages. These "northern blocks" contain approximately 20-25 retail stores and restaurants, with some office space above them (almost 1/3 of City Place).

Although these northern blocks may have a harder time attracting business, they have some excellent stores and restaurants, and they are very important for the downtown because they move people from the main section of City Place toward the north closer to Clematis Street. However, there are still 3 blocks between the end of the northern blocks of City Place at Fern Street, and Clematis Street. A major goal of downtown development is to connect City Place and Clematis Street, i.e. fill in those 3 blocks (between Fern St. and Clematis Street on Rosemary Avenue) with shops and other pedestrian-friendly development. At the current time, these 3 blocks are quite vacant, with empty unkept grassy areas on the right side between Fern St. and Datura St., creating a major gap between City Place and Clematis.

The developers of City Place actually had plans to expand City Place at least one block further to the north along Rosemary, from Fern St. to Evernia St. In fact, during the boom years, they had already purchased the needed land for this expansion (for $7 million), so they already own that vacant lot between Fern St. and Evernia St. along the east side of Rosemary Ave. All downtown boosters would of course love to see this expansion occur, with the ultimate result being that true connection between City Place and Clematis Street.

However, with the current economic picture, of course, these plans are on hold. Nevertheless, City Place does have an important transition plan for that land that they own. They want to make it into a "temporary" surface parking lot. When I first heard about this idea, I had a negative impression. However, when you look at the reality of the situation, it is clear that this temporary surface parking lot would be a huge plus for the downtown and is critically important, not only for City Place, but for the downtown in general.

Right now, no one is coming in to create large-scale new commercial or residential development. In the meantime, having a lighted and guarded parking lot there (with some nice landscaping) will help to at least partially enhance the connection between City Place and Clematis. More importantly for City Place, the 2 northern blocks of City Place are struggling right now, and the presence of a lot in that location will definitely help to bring them a large amount of additional foot traffic, and could mean the difference between survival or death during these difficult economic times.

This issue was discussed at a recent Downtown Action Committee meeting and will come before the City Commission soon. Despite significant opposition to an added parking lot (and skepticism regarding its "temporary" nature) I have a sense that this idea will get enough support to pass muster with the City, and this lot will soon appear. I had noticed that last year during the winter holidays, City Place had already used this area on an even more temporary basis for event parking (on the dirt), and when that did occur, the area had a lot more activity and seemed a lot safer and nicer (and apparently the 2 northern blocks of City Place businesses noticed that they had a lot more business as well during that time).

It was interesting to find out that City Place had created the super-temporary parking lot there last winter without requesting permission from the City and that use of the land was not exactly legal. Nevertheless, City Place is now coming back to the City asking for formal permission to pave the area and make an official parking lot there, and I believe that it is very important that the City allow this to happen in the current economic environment. Once there is an opportunity for City Place to develop that area for real, they will certainly jump on that opportunity, given the investment they have made in the land. In the meantime, the surface parking lot will help the existing northern businesses survive and improve (at least to some degree) the current link between City Place and Clematis Street.

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