Downtown projects share goal of prioritizing pedestrians

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By AARON WORMUS
Palms West Monthly
Posted May 10, 2019

On April 6, I parked my car and headed to the 9th Annual Downtown West Palm Beach Art Festival. This two-day outdoor event has been a lot of fun in previous years. Rosemary Avenue gets closed off and artists flood into downtown to exhibit in CityPlace. The art is always fantastic and the event showcases CityPlace well.

This year it was different – and I wasn’t prepared for it.

Since last October, Rosemary Avenue and Hibiscus Street have been closed to traffic while the roads were being upgraded. The project is now complete.

As I walked down Rosemary filled with thousands of people enjoying the art festival, it was almost unrecognizable. Curbs were gone, taking with them the separation between sidewalk, parking space and street. The focus was clearly on pedestrians as they walked through what was transitioning from the outdoor mall of the last 20 years to a new town square.

Full-sized shade trees have been planted along Rosemary, and along with the shade from the arcade architecture in front of the stores, a stroll was very pleasant even under the midday sun.

The upgrade of Rosemary Avenue is just the first step in a much bigger plan for CityPlace. In fact, in a move that surprised many, it was recently announced that there is a major focus on development there and that CityPlace has been rebranded to Rosemary Square.

Along with the name change comes a new focus on future development and infrastructure – a focus on putting people first. 

Changes that we’ll see right away include new restaurants, a cooking school, new retail, local and international art and a new water feature. Future projects include an office building at 360 Rosemary Ave., a 21-story mixed-use tower and a new hotel next to Hilton West Palm Beach.

Over the years, we have seen an ebb and flow of development in downtown West Palm Beach. Long-time residents will tell you that back in the 1950s, Clematis Street was the place to be until the Palm Beach Mall came along. Clematis Street saw a resurgence in the ’90s until Cityplace opened and once again took many businesses from the heart of downtown, leading to yet another decline.

This time, Related Companies, the developer of Rosemary Square, said that it’s going to be different with a focus on the entire city and downtown area.

“Our vision for Downtown West Palm Beach is to create a sense of place with energy and culture that extends well beyond the boundaries of Rosemary Square,” said Stephen Ross, chairman of Related Companies. 

Kenneth Himmel, president and CEO of Related Urban, echoed this sentiment. “We’re thrilled to continue our legacy transforming CityPlace to a place in the city that simply cannot be missed on any trip to South Florida. Our plans for Rosemary Square reflect the way people live, work and travel, and fulfill the desire to spend time in places with shopping, dining and cultural experiences all within a short walk.”

We can see other areas coming together toward this unified goal of creating a better, more pedestrian-friendly downtown.

After months of heavy construction, the 300 block of Clematis Street opened last October. Gehl Architects worked on both the Rosemary Square project and Clematis Street and the designs complement each other. Curbless streets, lots of shade trees, wider sidewalks with plenty of space for cafeteria seating and large benches all prioritize pedestrian use. 

The 200 and 100 blocks of Clematis Street will be completed this year, with the 400 and 500 blocks planned for upgrades in 2020.

To the west, the Kravis Center’s expansion is focusing on similar goals. According to its website, “The Center’s new park-like urban space will give guests easier access to the Center, whether walking from area hotels, the Convention Center or CityPlace. The pedestrian-friendly area will feature expanded sidewalks, and a bike path and a lovely waterfall fountain, welcoming pedestrians and bicyclists and better integrating the Kravis Center into the urban fabric of the city.” 

Kravis Center’s expansion will be complete in 2020.

I’ve touched on development a lot the last few columns, but there’s so much to keep up with as the fabric of downtown West Palm Beach changes. 

The good news is that all of downtown West Palm Beach is open for business. Even if streets are being refreshed, all the parking lots and valet areas are open. Both in Rosemary Square and Clematis Street, care has been taken to ensure that patrons have access to businesses. And real soon we’ll have a brand new pedestrian/retail friendly downtown.

Pictured above: Thousands of area residents and visitors flocked to the 9th Annual Downtown West Palm Beach Art Festival in early April held on Rosemary Avenue in downtown West Palm Beach. Photo by Aaron Wormus

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