The Real Deal Miami

New kind of urbanism comes to West Palm Beach

By Dan Weil | December 11, 2008 10:57AM

Downtown West Palm Beach has a new master plan, and its author,
architect Bernard Zyscovich, calls his vision “real urbanism,” an
updated version of so-called new urbanist makeovers designed to increase
activity in downtown areas of an increasingly suburbanized country.

New urbanism, the city’s policy of recent years, encouraged
pedestrian-friendly narrow streets populated by retail and residential
buildings. Cities across the country have adopted new urbanism policies
and plans over the past decade to attract people to their downtowns.

The new master plan, passed last month by West Palm Beach officials,
will allow taller buildings, but they would be located further apart
from each other and further back from the sidewalk.

The design seeks to bridge the gap between CityPlace and the Clematis
Street area, which now represent two nearly separate downtowns. The
plan will try to change that by adding office buildings and hotels between the two areas to link them.

The plan was approved last year, and the city planning department is
currently working on zoning and land development regulations to
implement the plan’s vision, such as allowing taller buildings. The
department hopes to finish that work by early next year, and then the
changes must be approved by the city commission.

Real estate experts generally applaud the new plan. “The old plan was
successful for small buildings, but it crashed when full blocks with
bulky towers were built right up to the line,” said architect Rick
Gonzalez.

The One and Two City Plaza buildings, located at Okeechobee Boulevard
and Olive Avenue, create a canyon that looks like “Wall Street South,”
he said. “The new plan has the right ideas.”

Don DeWoody, a principal at commercial real estate broker Compass
Realty, approves of the idea of switching from wide bulky buildings to
taller, slimmer ones. “You’ll see some unique architecture, because
there will be no more boxes,” he said. “It will be the same square
footage, just shifted to up/down.”

But Neil Merin, president of commercial brokerage NAI Merin Hunter
Codman, says the plan is overambitious on the office side. “It projects
West Palm Beach can absorb six million to eight million square feet of
office space over the next 10 years,” but typically the city only adds
200,000 to 300,000 square feet per decade, he said.