The Real Deal Miami

South Florida downtowns see resurgence

By Jennifer LeClaire | July 30, 2008 03:03PM

Downtown revitalization is a bona fide trend across the United States in cities large and small, and South Florida’s metro downtowns are in full revitalization swing.

But the strategies and the results in downtown Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach are as different as the cities themselves. 

“There are differences in the maturity of the commercial uses in the existing downtown markets and also in the public investments already made in the major cities in South Florida,” said Bernard Zyscovich, principal of Miami-based Zyscovich Architects, whose firm designed a Downtown Miami master growth plan that merged urbanism and architecture with economic and social schemes. 

Downtown West Palm Beach has completed major roadway and landscape improvements. And for years the city has held regularly scheduled events that aim to woo people to the heart of Clematis Street and the waterfront.  

Now, the city is working to adopt a new master plan and zoning regulations to boost its downtown. A new waterfront development and City Center projects are planned. More hotel development is in the works. 

In less than two years, more than 30 new retailers have come to the Clematis District and 20 have set up shop in the CityPlace District. 

“We’ve been fortunate to see the influx of the very active retirees from the Baby Boomer generation moving to our Downtown,” said Melissa Wohlust, executive director of the West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority. “They want to be able to walk out of their front door and go to the movies, the theatre, dine, shop, and enjoy an active, social lifestyle.” 

In Ft. Lauderdale’s, the downtown core has added offices, cultural activities and shops. The Community Redevelopment Authority has invested millions to redevelop areas like Sistrunk, where an African American Research Library has been added. 

Ft. Lauderdale’s master plan tries to balance residential, office, retail and marine development and public transportation. Beyond the many high-rise office buildings and condos that have come online in Downtown Ft. Lauderdale in recent years, several hotel developers now have projects underway. 

Zyscovich said that continued improvements to the infrastructure and pedestrian experience are essential to enhance the growth and viability of downtowns across South Florida. 

Downtown Miami has made significant investments in new major institutions, like the Performing Arts Center, and has seen a mixed-use residential tower construction boom along Biscayne Boulevard. But Downtown Miami has not yet made the investment in the pedestrian level improvements at the sidewalk and landscape level, which are traditionally catalysts for redevelopment.   

“This has unfortunately hindered the overall growth of the Downtown Miami core, especially the Flagler Street area,” said Zyscovich. “Under the right circumstances, Miami has enormous potential to capitalize on the international appeal of South Beach, which seems so far to be unaffected by the current economic situation.” 

Mark Grant, an attorney with Ruden McClosky in Ft. Lauderdale, said Miami appears to be the most overbuilt of South Florida’s downtowns.

“Miami will have the largest population living in the downtown area,” Grant said. “There will be some troubled times ahead for some of the new condo projects, but eventually the units will be filled up and Miami will have the most vibrant downtown of all three cities.” 

Earlier this week, The Real Deal looked at how Downtown Miami’s revitalization efforts are meeting with mixed reviews.