2017 highlights: Presidential visits, new spring training digs


By AARON WORMUSaaron_bio_pic
Exclusive to Palms West Monthly
Posted Jan. 2, 2018

It seemed like it was just yesterday that we were putting up our new calendar and starting 2017, yet here we are in 2018. Another year has come and gone. This one has probably been the most eventful in my 10-year stay here in beautiful West Palm Beach. Here’s some of the biggest events around town in 2017:

Donald Trump becomes president

Donald Trump became president on Jan. 20, putting the international spotlight on Palm Beach County. His first trip back to Palm Beach as president was Feb. 3.

Also in February, Palm Beach hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and in April we were back in the spotlight with a visit from Chinese President Xi Jinping.

President Trump’s first few visits here saw traffic significantly disrupted. On a weekly basis, international press lined up on Flagler Drive across the Intracoastal from Mar-a-Lago. As the months passed so did the attention that each of the president’s trips to the area would get. By the end of the year, the president came and went with little disruption for West Palm Beach.

The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches opens

The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches opened Feb. 28. The spring training facilities for both the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals were now officially in West Palm Beach.

In the inaugural game, the Nationals defeated the Astros 4-3, but the Astros came through with a strong season, and 10 months later went on to win the World Series – a win that no doubt will put additional focus on 2018’s spring training in West Palm Beach.

Downtown West Palm Beach Festivals

March through May brought our twin downtown festivals – the Palm Beach International Boat Show and SunFest. Locals often forget that our waterfront hosts one of the top five boat shows in the country. More than $1.2 billion worth of boats, yachts and accessories from the world’s leading marine manufacturers were on display.

Preparation for SunFest picks up once the boat show clears the waterfront, offering an exciting 5-day music festival.

Downtown Traffic Studies

Traffic has been an ongoing topic of discussion, and it was no different in 2017. With more development coming to the downtown area, city and county leaders have been forced to take an in-depth look at how people move through the city and how best to handle traffic in certain points.

City Commissioner Shanon Materio hosted the “Point A to Point B” traffic forum to bring together the Town of Palm Beach and traffic experts from the county to discuss how we can solve the traffic problem around Okeechobee Boulevard.

The City of West Palm Beach conducted a “mobility study” which looks at the entire city and studies all transport through the city. Car, bike, pedestrian traffic as well as public transportation are looked at to find the best way to move people through our city. The results of the City Mobility study are due out in January 2018.

Flagler Memorial Bridge Construction ends, Brightline begins

After five years of construction, all four lanes of the brand new Flagler Memorial Bridge opened at the end of July. This provided huge relief for downtown and Palm Beach traffic. Brightline completed its station in downtown West Palm Beach and – as of this writing – has promised to start regular rail service to Ft. Lauderdale in December. Train service to Miami is expected in the first quarter of 2018.

Solar Eclipse Frenzy

In August, solar eclipse frenzy swept through West Palm Beach. Even though we were not in the path of totality, everyone rushed to buy the ever-dwindling supply of solar eclipse glasses. The Mandel Public Library of West Palm Beach stepped up and acquired over 5,000 sets of glasses which they handed out in the days leading up to the eclipse.

Hurricane Irma

For the second month in a row natural phenomena took the spotlight. In September, West Palm Beach braced for Hurricane Irma, the first hurricane to make landfall in South Florida in years.

The city was ready and activated its 3-year-old Emergency Operations Center at Fire Station No. 5. We were lucky that we didn’t feel the full force of Irma, but the county sustained $100 million in property damage and the city spent most of September removing over 60,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris.

Flagler Shore Project

October saw the opening of the Flagler Shore project which transformed Flagler Drive between Lakeview Avenue and Banyan Boulevard into a two-lane street. The test project runs through March and continues to host weekly waterfront events.

Changing Face of CityPlace

In November, the new Restoration Hardware debuted between Hilton West Palm Beach and CityPlace. This four-story, 80,000-square-foot gallery includes a rooftop restaurant, wine vault and outdoor art installation by LA-based street artist RETNA.

If you haven’t been to this new addition to CityPlace, it’s spectacular! The showroom is fantastic, but best of all is the cafeteria/restaurant which has a fantastic menu and great views of our downtown.

Also, recently opened in Cityplace is WPB Collective, a collaboration of pop-up shops and experiences that showcase South Florida entrepreneurs and provides nearly 5,000 square feet of shared space for local artisans to sell their products.

Renowned British artist Sir Michael Craig Martin transformed the outside of the now empty Macy’s store into a massive mural and Japanese artist Frankie Cihi turned the west side of the CityPlace Hibiscus garage into a 581-foot-long hand-painted mural.

West Palm Beach Brewery & Wine Vault Opens

In December, we had the aptly-named West Palm Beach Brewery & Wine Vault open as the first brewery in downtown West Palm Beach. Located at 322 Evernia St., it’s the creation of John Pankauski, downtown lawyer and wine aficionado. Four different kinds of beer are brewed on the premises and wine drinkers can enjoy part of Pankauski’s 12,000-bottle private wine collection which is stored on site.

I could continue and fill pages on other events that took place throughout the year. Our little city is booming and changing every day and I look forward to what 2018 has in store for us.

Happy New Year. 

Pictured above: The Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros play a spring training baseball game at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. The game was the first to be played in the new stadium, which serves as both clubs’ spring training home. AP Photo/John Bazemore

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