West Palm Beach is soliciting development offers for its Tent Site, the prominent piece of vacant land at the intersection of Okeechobee Boulevard and U.S. 1, a gateway to downtown at the heart of the city’s worsening traffic problems.
Unsolicited offers have been coming in, the most recent one from a major nationwide developer, Charles S. Cohen, who also has been hoping to redevelop the old Carefree Theatre site several blocks to the south. And on Tuesday afternoon, city commissioners instructed the Community Redevelopment Agency to craft a request for qualifications to open the site up to competition.
The commissioners voted 4-1, with Paula Ryan dissenting.
“We are undertaking a mobility study, looking at all the different ways to move traffic and people and other alternative transportation through downtown and I would like to see us complete what we started and come up with a solution that meets our needs,” rather than first asking a developer to come up with self-interested solutions to the city’s congestion problems, Ryan said.
But the rest of the board didn’t want to wait for the study’s summertime completion before seeking development proposals.
“The window of opportunity for private development projects is limited,” Commissioner Keith James said. “We don’t know when it will close. We need to strike while the iron is hot.”
Twice the city entertained unsolicited proposals for the site and twice the result proved an embarrassment.
– In one high-profile debacle, the city gave Digital Domain Media Group approval to build a splashy building on the site to house a film school and digital animation studio and promised $35 million in subsidies. But Port St. Lucie-based Digital Domain filed for bankruptcy court protection in 2012. The city got the land back through the court.
– Two years ago, amid political opposition, the city commission rejected a plan by developer Michael McCloskey to buy the site from the city for $13.5 million and build a medical campus. That plan’s rejection came after two years of development negotiations.
James led the charge against the proposal, saying it might “cannibalize” existing medical businesses in the city.
West Palm Beach is poised to approve incentive dollars for a corporate relocation prospect that would bring 80 jobs.
Under the code name, “Project Bright,” the unnamed technology company would create those new, full-time jobs over the next three years, with an average salary of $52,000, and invest $1.5 million in construction, and in manufacturing and research and development equipment.
The city commission is scheduled to vote May 8 to pledge $24,000. The county would add the same amount and the state would contribute $192,000, or 80 percent of the $240,000 total incentive package.
The Everglades Trust is hailing as a major victory the Florida House passage Tuesday of Senate President Joe Negron’s plan for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to filter and feed water to the parched River of Grass.
The House passed the plan 99-19, following in the Senate’s footsteps.
“With the passage of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan’s reservoir, which was approved and authorized by Congress in 2000, the legislature advances to the Governor the long-awaited and urgently-needed Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir legislation for his signature,” the nonprofit, led by former West Palm Beach Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell, said in a statement released this afternoon. “Today marks the most significant victory for Everglades restoration in more than two decades.”
“This is a very big day,” Mitchell said.
Keep Florida Fishing, advocates for the American Sportfishing Association, also hailed passage of the plan, saying it would provide money to speed creation of the reservoir to reduce fertilizer-contaminated releases to coastal estuaries.
The vote also drew praise from U.S. Sugar and Florida Sugarcane Farmers, who strongly opposed earlier versions that would have required more farmland be taken out of production to build the reservoir.
“Senate Bill 10 has been greatly improved, takes essentially no privately owned farmland and even removes the threat of eminent domain,” Judy Sanchez, Senior Director for Corporate Communications and Public Affairs for U.S. Sugar, said.
“The House deserves credit for quickly passing legislation that can provide some protection for our water resources while also protecting our farming communities and vital food production.”
She added: “U.S. Sugar always supports solutions that are based on science, which, in this case shows the source of the water significantly impacting the coastal estuaries flows from north of Lake Okeechobee, not the south. Obviously, you’re going to have to build some solutions north of the lake to finally fix the discharge problem. We look forward to working with legislators in the future to get that done.”
Florida Sugarcane Farmersalso issued a statement praising the lawmakers for not taking private farmland out of production.
“While not perfect, Senate Bill 10 will ensure the planned reservoir is eventually completed on existing state-owned land,” the farmers group said. “Having turned the page on buying additional land south of Lake Okeechobee, the Florida Legislature in a future session can focus on plans that will address the excess water and nutrients originating north of the lake, which science shows can reduce the frequency of discharges by more than 60 percent.”
Not happy with the process was another landowners group, Everglades Agricultural Area Farmers, Inc.
“Farm families like mine were very concerned when government leaders, out of the blue, announced a plan to take our private land without even speaking to us,” member Keith Wedgworth said.
“Fortunately, they ignored an ill-intentioned, flawed plan championed by the anti-farmer Everglades Foundation and rewrote Senate Bill 10 to protect our private property,” he said. “We urge the Legislature to now focus on plans that will actually tackle water problems at their source, which is the only way to reduce discharges, clean pollution and avoid future algae blooms in the estuaries.”
West Palm’s waterfront redesign competition has been won by Ecosistema Urbano, with a proposal that includes what could be the first public “bioclimatic domes” in the U.S., the Van Alen Institute and the West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency announced Thursday.
The domes, adorned with hanging gardens, create “climatically comfortable spaces 365 days a year, thereby supporting a more socially cohesive city,” according to a release from Van Alen, which oversaw the competition the proposal.
Ecosistema Urbano’s design, called Open Shore, answers the Shore to Core competition’s call for a comprehensive, forward-thinking urban plan to make West Palm Beach’s waterfront a year-’round destination for locals and visitors, the release said.
“The proposal also illustrates how the city’s Banyan Garage could be ‘up-cycled’ into a mixed-use building with both public- and private-sector roles, featuring adaptive climates suitable for a range of activities, including a farmers market, co-working spaces and skyline viewing platforms. Additional amenities include vibrant thematic alleyways—with such features as a rock climbing wall, interactive exhibition space, and immersive foliage—that harness the cultural values and experiences unique to West Palm Beach, while also providing shade and introducing new elevated programming spaces,” the release said.
The Shore to Core competition invited international designers, planners and architects to envision what the West Palm Beach waterfront could look like over the next 20 to 30 years, taking population, the economy and the environment into account.
Ecosistema Urbano is scheduled to present the proposal next month to the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, which will identify priority projects within the Banyan Garage and downtown alleyways and then contract with the company. This will be followed by outreach to the community about the individual elements that are scheduled for possible implementation in late 2017 or early 2018.
West Palm Beach’s urban planning consultants, Gehl Studio, this week released recommendations on how to bring the downtown and neighborhood scenes to life. For downtown, the challenge the consultants saw was that, the second you step off Clematis Street, or away from CityPlace, walkways are uninviting and that breaks up the connectivity that makes it fun to go from one place to another.
Not enough shade trees, street lighting or bicycling facilities; too many obstructions like utility posts blocking the sidewalks. Big roadways like Okeechobee Boulevard and Tamarind Avenue act as barriers. Flagler Drive blocks the waterfront.
The urban planners came up with proposals for pilot projects for six areas, from just south to just north of downtown. The city commission will be considering these recommendations in the weeks to come. We plan a full story about this for this weekend, but for now, here’s a neighborhood-by-neighborhood summary of the challenges and “potential moves” for the six areas, culled from the Gehl presentation:
Complete Clematis.Challenges: Clematis’ eastern and western edges could use some love. On the west, crossing Tamarind Avenue from the Tri-Rail station is difficult, and the end of Clematis has little shade or pedestrian interest. On the east, everyone loves the waterfront but it’s empty most of the time, there’s no way to interact with the water, no shade and few everyday activities. Recommendations: Create an artistic gateway tot he city at the TriRail Station; make Tamarind easier for pedestrians by adding a signal and pedestrian islands; Add shading to make walk up Clematis from the station more comfortable; run bike lanes from Tri-Rail to Rosemary Avenue; String lighting from Tri-Rail to the waterfront; add movable seating to the Flagler Drive green, so people can follow the shade; make the FEC rail and Quadrille Boulevard intersection feel safe and comfortable; widen the waterfront park by taking under-used space from Flagler Drive and install docks that step down to the water. Include eye-catching lighting to draw people to the waterfront.
Historic Northwest. Challenges: Need to stitch this neighborhood and downtown back together. Banyan Boulevard acts as a barrier, too many dark sidewalks, sidewalk obstructions, lack of shade and few things to do. Getting downtown on foot is tough. Rosemary Avenue, once commercial heart of Historic NW, has fallen into vacancy and disrepair. Need to leverage city’s investment in the Sunset Lounge, the historic jazz bar, and set stage to renew Rosemary as a ‘Main Street.’ Recommendations: Create a gateway to the neighborhood at Banyan and Rosemary, with art and bright lighting and redesign intersection to make it safer and more appealing. Paint vacant buildings and sidewalk obstructions bright colors to create an eye-catching pathway on Rosemary. Install artistic lighting along Rosemary leading from Clematis to the Sunset Lounge. Install traffic calming and pedestrian and cyclist improvements on Rosemary. Create a ‘Vacancy Lab’ to test different uses for vacant lots such as sports fields, community garden, food truck pop-ups, plant nursery, tree grove. Consider adding trolley stop. Improve connection across the tracks and to the water along 3rd Street.
15th Street: Safety and comfort from school to pools. Challenges: 15th crosses both railroads, connecting schools with Pleasant City, Gaines Park and the waterfront. Need to make 15th “a truly great pedestrian and bike street that is safe and enjoyable for school children and all WPBers.” Recommendations: Promote walking and biking to school with mural-painting and other events and traffic school for kids. Add shade, lighting, continuous bike lanes, improve intersections, add ‘rest stops’ with seating, shade, ‘playful interventions,’ bike pumps and the like.
Pleasant City: Challenges: It’s a food desert, with few outlets for affordable food, whether in stores or restaurants. Northwood Village has great restaurants but they’re too expensive for many neighbors. Getting to the water from Northwood and Pleasant City is challenging because it feels far. Recommendations: Give Pleasant city residents something to do in Blum Park while helping address shortage of affordable food in the neighborhood. Connect the neighborhood to the water and Currie Park while creating a new destination: the Sunset Pools. Sunset Pools would be a ‘mobile harbor bath in the Intracoastal Waterway that allows people to get into the water and can be moved to serve different neighborhoods. Add activities to Blum Park by building barbecue pits, a weekly or biweekly food truck program with local entrepreneurs, add picnic tables and shade. Build on the community garden on Spruce and connect to a kitchen. Create a community/commercial kitchen in a vacant building or repurposed shipping container to supply the food truck program and provide job training. Install pedestrian and bike improvements on Spruce, leading from Northwood to Merry Place. Add a trolley stop at Dixie Highway and Currie Park.
Tamarind Avenue: Challenges: It’s a commercial street plagued by vacancies, illicit activities, a tough stigma, lack of lighting and shade. Locals say bus stops are uncomfortable, and though there are hang-out spots near corner stores, there is nowhere to sit and nothing to do. Recommendations: Bring amenities to the Coleman Park neighborhood along Tamarind, where no one should ever be more than two minutes from comfort, services or neighborhood shops. Create clusters of activity around existing, organic hang-out areas at corner stores and bus stops and put eyes on the street by adding services the neighborhood needs. Add shade, lighting, seating. Add ‘pop-ups’ to energize Tamarind, such as a mobile library, WiFi stations, bike repair shop, computer access points, outdoor exercise equipment, street games. Make cycling between 15th and 23rd streets more comfortable by clearly marking that this is “a neighborhood green street/commercial main street.”
Howard Park: Challenges: The under-used northern end of the park is potentially a great amenity for the southern part of downtown, but with Okeechobee Boulevard in the middle, it’s hard to navigate between the park and downtown. Recommendations: Improve Okeechobee crossings by tailoring crossing times to pedestrians, widening ends of medians to make the crossings shorter. Add shade, lighting and other pedestrian improvements between CityPlace and Howard Park. Add a SkyBike bicycle rental station. Create “a playful connection” through the park, with features like Los Trompos, the big “tops” formerly located on the waterfront. Try putting a trolley stop at the park, and if there’s demand, a trolley stop at the Art Walk in the Warehouse District.
The road that runs by the new convention center Hilton to the center garage is up for a name change, to make life less confusing for guests.
The road, currently part of Florida Avenue that runs from Okeechobee Boulevard to the garage, is to be renamed South Rosemary Avenue.
The city commission is scheduled to vote Monday on the name change, at the request of the Palm Beach County Convention Center, The Related Cos. and the CityPlace South Tower.
They’ve also requested two other changes:
1. That the private driveway south of the South Tower Condominium be named “Kiwi Drive”. This section of roadway is co-owned by the Related Companies and CityPlace South Tower.
2. That the unnamed street on the south side of the Hilton West Palm Beach Parking lot be named “L” Street.
The moratorium, given preliminary approval Feb. 13 by the city commission, will be in effect until Oct. 1, unless commissioners decide otherwise.
The city is waiting for state lawmakers to decide on pending bills that would regulate the business.
Florida voters last November approved expanding availability of medical pot for conditions from cancer to epilepsy, ALS, Parkinson’s, MS, Crohn’s and PTSD.
But West Palm is waiting for state lawmakers to approve regulations of its own before the city adds rules.
The following ordinance passed without controversy:
“AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY COMMISSION OF THE CITY OF WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA, DECLARING A MORATORIUM AS TO THE FILING OF APPLICATIONS FOR CANNABIS DISPENSING FACILITIES AND MEDICAL MARIJUANA TREATMENT CENTERS WITHIN THE CITY OF WEST PALM BEACH AND DECLARING A ZONING IN PROGRESS TO COMPLETE DEVELOPMENT OF ZONING AND LAND DEVELOPMENT REGULATIONS FOR THE PLACEMENT OF
CANNABIS DISPENSING FACILITIES AND MEDICAL MARIJUANA TREATMENT CENTERS.”