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Lessons from a West Palm Beach FL Lifestyle Center

April 6, 2008 Planning & Design, Retail, Travel 23 Comments

The new owner of the failing St. Louis area enclosed mall, Crestwood Plaza, recently announced plans to raze the place and construct an open air “lifestyle center” on the site. Subsidies from the city of Crestwood will be sought (surprise).This made me think of one such center I saw last Fall when I was in Florida for the Rail~Volution conference. With the registration they gave us passes for all of their transit systems. So on my last day I took their Tri-Rail line up to Palm Beach. This is a heavy rail line serving several counties in the south Florida region. I was using the line on a Sunday so I didn’t get any picture as to how well it does serving commuters.

Not much existed around the depot but I could see buildings off to the east — toward the water so that was the direction I walked.

After several blocks of nothing I found something of interest:

Above on the left is a grocery store and on the right is the back end of the lifestyle center — the “front” faces onto a major road — more on that later. At first I wasn’t sure what it was I just knew the buildings were up to the sidewalk and of multiple levels

Up half a block I spotted motorcycle/scooter parking. Nice.

I was at the North end of “City Place” — a mixed-use upscale lifestyle center. The name is only part of selling a city/urban lifestyle. As you can tell from the map this development integrated itself into the existing street grid.

Three story buildings aligned both sides of South Rosemary Ave. The upper floors of most of what you see above is residential.

The upper floors overhang the sidewalk space to create an environment safe from the hot Florida sun. The high ceiling gives it an open feeling.

looking back the other direction toward the intersection we see shrubs — the line of travel was shifted. I had lunch at the outdoor patio you see on the left and I observed that most people crossing the street above went to the left of the shrubs rather than to the right for the crosswalk. The lesson here is that people take the shortest route — architects and planners need to remember as much. If they would take the time to do a pedestrian circulation study of their proposed design they’d catch these issues. Sadly, more time is spent on the circulation of cars. Still this project is a thousand times better than a typical strip or enclosed mall.

The main street is narrow with on-street parking to help give that city/urban feeling. Balconies, even when vacant, suggest a lively streetscape. But don’t get any ideas about running a clothesline across the street from building to building — this is not a typical urban street — it is under the control of one management company.

Further down the street we see a large multi-level Macy’s was integrated into the design. Looking closely at the design it is easy to find flaws with the execution but just walking down the street it works as intended — to blend in and mask the true size of the store behind the walls.

Up next was a pleasant surprise — a former United Methodist church was reborn as the centerpiece of the whole project with life as a performance hall. The inclusion of an existing structure within the development site added a nice bit of history lacking in the new buildings.

A modest sized plaza with outdoor dining is at the rear of the old church. An important lesson here, which they did well, is to make the plaza a good size but not so big that it looks empty most of the time.

By putting the stage in the middle of the space it broke up the area to keep it from being too expansive. The plantings and pavement further help break down the overall size of the space.

Sadly the entire project lacks bike parking. Here cyclists used the pole from a stop sign. Unfortunately the sop sign was placed at the end of a crosswalk so the bikes now contribute for blocking the pathway. This project has numerous parking garages hidden behind the buildings but they failed to plan for people arriving by a mode other than the car. This area, not far from the water, has a number of condo buildings nearby so it should have been assumed that some customers would bike.

We’ve now reached the south edge — a major blvd in West Palm Beach. As you can see in the distance are nearby condos.

Directly across the street to the south is more new housing nearing completion. Unfortunately crossing the boulevard on foot wasn’t part of the plan — at least not that I saw.

Entering from the main entry (above) you certainly feel like you are going into a singular unified project rather than just another city street. Such a tactic is probably necessary to attract the right tenant mix, the right shoppers and the right residents. Still, Im glad that in other directions that it just blends so much better.

Housing types vary within the project — these townhouses with garages are great for those that may not care for an over a store type of unit. Note this is an alley serving these units — pedestrian entrances face courtyards or in the case of the ones on the left facing a public street.

Overall not a bad project. Many of our St. Louis area projects would do well to copy elements such as the streets in addition to the building scale. Loughborough Commons, for example, would have been outstanding with a main street through it’s center and side streets connecting to the adjacent streets. Sure this type of project costs more to build but you also get more in return. I doubt that whatever replaces Crestwood Mall will be as diverse as the above project. It will really come down to the vision of the developer and their architect as I am certain the City of Crestwood has no vision beyond sales tax revenue.


Currently there are "23 comments" on this Article:

  1. NWP, Crestwood Plaza, and Midrivers Mall will always fall short because surrounding their “urban” lifestyle center, we have suburban style housing. Low density and autocentric planning will always fall short. Sure, they can park and walk around, but is that urbanism? Finally, yes, municipal government’s only concern is sales tax revenue. They will do whatever they developer says is in vogue, thus they won’t press for more innovative designs. Even so, again, new urbanism ideally only works when the surrounding environment is already urban. Loughborough Commons is an ideal location, but others will fall short.

  2. Urbanian says:

    This looks like a similar but much larger version of that strip on Brentwood across from the Galleria. Don’t know the name; don’t go there much. Too contrived.

    Efforts to mimic a romanticized version of the “Downtown” that Petula Clark sang about appear to be all the rage. I feel like I’m role playing on a stage set to mimic a sanitized 1940s shopping excursion. It’s a ridiculously shallow experience.

    Which came first, urban density or urban shopping experience? We’re getting the cart before the horse.

  3. john says:

    The Boulevard (across from the Galleria) was marketed by President Sherwood of Pace to “be the Michigan Ave of St Louis”. The residential components designed as townhomes and condos has been cancelled and Pace is having a tough time renting the existing apartments. The first building constructed was a multi-level parking garage and the area is very pedestrian unfriendly and being made worse by the New 64…it is St Louis.

  4. Jim Zavist says:

    Yes, a well-done project, especially how the multiple parking garages were integrated and hidden (your map link). But, as with anything, money talks. This is West Palm, after all, so the rents the developer can expect are quite a bit higher than those in Crestwood. And yeah, it’s “integrated into the existing street grid” because like too many local projects, retail replaced less-dense, likely residential development: http://www.terraserverusa.com/image.aspx?T=1&S=11&Z=17&X=1484&Y=7385&W=1&qs=701+S+Rosemary+Ave%7cwest+palm+beach%7cfl%7c&Addr=701+S+Rosemary+Ave%2c+West+Palm+Beach%2c+FL+33401-6031&ALon=-80.0571840&ALat=26.7073980 (that church served an actual residential community). So, I’m conflicted. It’s a well-thought-thru design solution, but it also represents the ongoing gentrification of the Florida coast. Like they say, they’re not building any more oceanfront property, and much of the “cracker” funkiness that defined mid-20th-century Florida (that I knew and still love) is slowly being replaced by condo after condo after condo that only wealthy retirees can afford. I believe in the free market, but the reason the “market” supports this type of development is that the larger area attracts people with higher incomes and disposable incomes, to the exclusion of, in my mind, a more-economically diverse population (I seriously doubt that “affordable” housing was ever a consideration here).

    [slp — once the ice caps melt we will have all sorts of new ocean front property.  what this does show is that a certain segment of the population is seeking something different than the suburban patterns  of the last half century.]

  5. john w. says:

    These fuller, truer forms of urban street lifestyle centers have been in Florida for about 10 years, and are being built in California at nearly the same rate. I’ve been to a few in Florida while traveling for work, and have also been to the famed Santana Row in San Jose, CA. The Florida prececents are notable (despite the overly effusive application of cheap stucco and the stubborn vestiges of 1980s shopping mall PoMo esthetic) because they are literally functioning circuits in the urban street grid. Unfortunately, yet not surprisingly, local examples are are far less useful (the nearly complete Hanley Station) or outright contrivance (Boulevard St. Louis), and reflect the developers willingness to build what appears to be an urban Mecca but is instead a simple repackaging of the interior mall as exterior street. The near total disconnect from the critical passage of traffic on our city streets renders this local examples little more than lake bass swimming aimlessly in the vast ocean. Though these local lifestyle centers are a technically an example of form-based development, they are fruitless as they miss the larger point of urbanism entirely. In order to walk in these walkable (or even fake) streets, one must either drive to, or risk life and limb crosswalking high-volume, higher speed arterial streets to shop at Ann Taylor Loft or Crate and Barrel. Once one discovers the other side of the new urban street is the likes of Hanley Industrial Park, with no actual connection to the metrolink station from which it takes its name (a very, VERY weak TOD), the disappointment sets in. As Doug points out, the remaining dead malls likely targeted for redevelopment as lifestyle centers will suffer from the same aggravating disconnects suffered by the lake bass in the sea, AND will not likely aspire to much more than cheap stucco artiface and shopping mall PoMo esthetic.

  6. Myke w/ a Y says:

    Am I the only one that’s noticing the big difference here between Florida and St. Louis?
    Open-air shopping is great…when it’s not snowy or below freezing. I also wonder how any new development @ Crestwood Plaza would be “integrated” in to the current urban infrastructure, since it’s all suburban sprawl in Crestwood. Sounds like another Boulevard fiasco to me. Or maybe it’d be cool.

  7. john w. says:

    Mashpee Commons, Massachussetts is another development much more like the Florida example of Steve’s post, with true and active streets (actual through-traffic and therefore purposeful), but also similar to New Town in its extensive master planned scope. The detachment of New Town from the larger metro area of St. Louis represents the sort of lost opportunity and, again, missed larger point of urbanism that has us continuing to stumble.

  8. john w. says:

    Chicago’s Magnificent Mile doesn’t much suffer from the severity of its Lake Michigan winters, and if there is an attractive commercial draw, people will come. The dead mall sites of St. Louis, however, won’t offer such a draw I would imagine, but San Diego nor Buffalo weather will make an insular bunch of shops on a go-nowhere street or streets succeed or fail. You’ll just pass them by on the highway.

  9. theotherguy says:

    a better done post than anyone has a right to expect. Kudos!!

  10. Jim Zavist says:

    But what this also shows is that land values drive density. Communities can use zoning to cap density at some arbitrary number, but it takes economic demand to justify going denser . . .

  11. kyle says:

    great post!

  12. john w. says:

    Economic demand AND logical physical space planning indicative of the type of understanding of urban form that is needed to produce the desired result.

    [slp — I’d argue that having the right zoning in place would make such projects easier to get done — potentially increasing the value of that land as it allows for more density and thus more space the developer has to lease.  ] 

  13. Jim Zavist says:

    So should Crestwood upzone Crestwood Mall/Court? Will the neighbors support it? My guess is that the constraining element there is the number of parking spaces, followed by any offsite improvements that increased traffic might demand. Structured parking costs 3 times as much as surface parking. The economics, both supply and demand, need to “work” before a developer will invest in a structure.
    The “good” thing in Crestwood is the existing topography – since the site drops substantially from Watson Rd. north, a good argument can be made to build a platform at Watson Rd. level (for visibility) and to tuck parking underneath – they did that in Tampa at the lifestyle part of International Plaza (that they stuck on the north side: http://www.mapquest.com/maps/Tampa+FL/#a/maps/l:::Tampa:FL::US:27.947201:-82.458603:city:Hillsborough+County/m:hyb:13:27.962602:-82.520976:0::/io:0:::::f:EN:M:/e )
    It’ll be interesting to how plan actually evolve . . .

  14. john w. says:

    Given the scale and volume of traffic of Watson, and the very nature of the typical business loop commercial retail street, whatever is built will be isolated from anything remotely walkable and only walkable unto itself. The best that can be expected from the various local dead mall sites, if mixed-use, is an inversion of the enclosed mall to an exposed mall with a smattering of residential units of dubious value. One site that does present at least a small degree of potential is the Deer Creek shopping center. The narrowness of Laclede Station Road with immediate access to green space to the west in Deer Creek Park, and the proximity of the Sunnen Metrolink platform with DIRECT ACCESS to this site (the apartment complex at the intersection of Laclede Station and Hanley is planned for demolition as part of a future TOD) make this site somewhat more plausible. Ironically, the very aspect of the Deer Creek site that doomed it to failure as a shopping center (it lacks major street frontage)makes this site a more attractive location for such a lifestyle center, and affordable housing would be a much easier inclusion as well.

    [slp – if we think Watson will remain the same you are corrrect.  It has the potential to change and a more urban/dense project where the mall now sits would help move Watson in the right direction.  ] 

  15. LisaS says:

    I haven’t been to West Palm in a long time, and actually, I’m kind of sad to see this because there was a great little Cuban sandwich right in there somewhere … oh well.
    good thinking on the Deer Creek site, jw. I like that idea.

  16. SillyLocals says:

    Deer Creek can only mean affordable housing and high real estate values in the Lou are not typically found in flood plains or along corridors designed to replicate quasi highways as Hanley is planned to become. The closest locals will get to supporting anything like City Place is buying cheap beer at $8 a cup and watching the pond at BPV sprout weeds. The new owners know the Lou and state “We will also require subsidies…”

  17. dude says:

    I wish them fortune but I’m as cynical as everyone else on this one. You look at Euclid and Maryland through the central west end, Wash Ave downtown, Delmar through the loop, and Manchester through Maplewood. They all are successful. There is nothing complicated about them. 1 lane in each directin with curbside parking with housing packed in around it and a parking hidden behind or near by. My friend that lives across from Crestwood plaza is in a cul de sac sea of ranch houses. Crestwood isn’t arranged to support this type of project in my opinion. The urbanian above picked the right word, “contrived.” The phoniness is way too obvious. I applaud West Palm. Some of those pics are convincing enough to dupe me into thinking I’m in for the urban experience.

    I’m glad someone cleared up what that thing accross from the Galleria is supposed to be. It looked like they were trying to build a 2nd galleria but with no room to grow. I feel sorry for the souls that would have to call that “home”.

  18. Urbanian says:

    Way back in the olden days in 1983 when I first arrived in St. Louis, Crestwood Plaza was an outdoor strip mall in the process of enlarging and enclosing just like Northwest Plaza did more recently. Curious to watch history repeat so soon.

  19. That thing by the Galleria? Oh man. I’ve never actually been IN there.

    And that has got to be its biggest problem — it is VERY disconnected from everything around it. It’s walled off by the Interstate, huge parking lots, and two very busy, very large surface streets. Who the heck could actually walk there from their home??

  20. john w. says:

    Developers will only do what they are forced to do, and little else. If the current trend in commercial retail development is lifestyle centers, they’ll make it LOOK like an urban street and all other means of true connectivity be damned. If developers were told they’d see tens of millions in returns by doing the right thing as directed by skilled and accountable urban planners, they’d do the right thing. If developers were told they’d see tens of millions in returns by doing whatever they damned well wished (i.e. almost always the wrong thing) they’d do what they damned well wished. The latter is currently the prevailing model because we, as cities, fail to demand of the shapers of our urban spaces (developers and traffic engineers, property owners and politicians, etc.) the dignified urban quality that is becoming of a civil society. Why do we give much of a care what cars think about our built environment? Urban land should be shaped by people and mass transit serving people, not by cars, but until we can successfully return to the paradigm of the built American city prior to the mid-20th century we’ll continue to talk about the futility of dead mall sites and needless highway expansion projects.

  21. southsider says:

    i ll bet ya a nickel that ugly 20 story condo bldgs has folded by now. good time to buy a unit on the cheap.

  22. Ankit Jain says:

    I was walking at the North Spoede Road crosswalk, when it started to show Start Walking sign, I started walking, When I was in the middle of the road, Police gave me a Citation ticket that I dis-obeyed the Crosswalk signal. The signal is for a short duration, and the officer mistook it as a violation of the crosswalk signal. It seems it is a crime to walk also on the crosswalk!!

    I am new to US, but I did follow the signal. Now they told me to appear the court that I am not guilty or pay the fine.

    Any thoughts?

    It seems if you are doing some good to environment, following the traffic rule, you should be punished.

  23. beach shorts says:

    I think a Lifestyle Center is a great idea, but I’m not sure it will help business any. If something’s failing, it may be because of other reasons, like location, stores offered etc. I think things like this are very appealing to the eye and nice for when it’s warm outside.


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