Clematis Street

Clematis and Narcissus Street
West Palm Beach, Fl

Submitted by: david risinger

The redevelopment of this street has transformed four formerly blighted city blocks.

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Why It Works

Innovations used to make this street into a place include: traffic calming; involving the local artist community; elevated, curbless intersections; eight funding sources; overcoming the Citys' early fears of downtown reinvestment; broad support for a special assessment district; and DDA-supported initiatives for maintenance, operations, parking and security. Another, more recent parking innovation since the street was redeveloped in the early '90s includes the use of valet parking at night. This incorporates the development of joint-use agreements for existing commercial parking lots that sit empty after 6 pm.

Most recently, the Mayor has grown 'so bothered' by the successful street life on Clematis (i.e. numerous tables and chairs supporting restaurants on sidewalks only 11 feet wide) that he actually supported the idea of a tax upon the businesses using the sidewalk. Ten years after opening in 1991, Clematis Street is entering its fourth and most challenging era of investment. Can it retain its personality and avoid the "nationalization" of its retail base? Or will it mature to serve as a true and vibrant mixed-use district?

What Makes Clematis Street a Great Place?

Access, linkages and multi-mode mobility were all fundamental. UMPTA grants funded new, highly finished transit shelters (at up to $70,000 each); one-way traffic flows were reconverted to two operations; intersections were raised to be "curbless," making them "pedestrian spaces through which traffic must slowly flow" rather than "vehicular spaces that pedestrians must risk life and limb to navigate"; and sidewalks were widened.

A redesign of the street cross section, intersections and pedestrian accommodations help to ensure a safe, comfortable and attractive environment. A local stone artist, Rick Herpel, designed and manufactured over 100,000 square feet of simulated coral stone paving. The unique character and patina of this cast-stone material is consistent with the real cut coral stone used extensively to embellish the works of Addison Mizner and others during the building boom in West Palm Beach and Palm Beach in the early 20th century (in fact, Herpels' father worked directly for Addison Mizner in creating unique stone work of historical significance today). The DDA also "got serious" about the funding security (downtown police assignments stress foot patrols and 'face time' with merchants and residents); maintenance; and dependable and safe transit connectors to surrounding parking lots.

In 1990 downtown was essentially vacant by 6 pm. Now, a series of planned events includes "Clematis By Night," which routinely attracts 4 to 10 thousand people every Thursday (the slowest retail evening). Annual events have taken root with many becoming institutionalized, thereby requiring less public funds. By 2000, events generated a surplus, allowing investment in subsequent events. along the corridor, vacancy rates have dropped from nearly 85% (Pre-improvement) to less than 5%; property values have risen from a low of less than $20 per SF, more than of $100 per SF (in 1996).

Clematis Street is frequently mentioned as the place to be or be seen. The full impact of the competition - City Place, a $600 million redevelopment initiative partly subsidized by the success of Clematis Street, and located less than a mile away - has yet to be fully realized, but there is a growing sense that Clematis Street has reclaimed the right to be recognized as THE traditional downtown district where one is likely to encounter national retailers.

History & Background

In 1989, the City of West Palm Beach had a seriously declining tax base. The traditional retail core was a four-block district running through downtown West Palm Beach known as Clematis Street. Historically, Clematis Street supported retail and community services for the workers who walked down this street each morning in order to board a ferry which would take them across the Intracoastal Waterway to the Town of Palm Beach, where they were employed as servents, cooks, nannies and yard keepers.

By the late 1980's, years of urban neglect and outward-bound street projects had both encouraged and subsidized the flight of residents, who were soon to be followed by commerce. In 1989, with about $12,000 in the bank, the City was determined to initiate broad and comprehensive investments downtown. In support of this, they retained a new DDA Director; created a redevelopment assessment program; and commissioned planning and design for an initial downtown project: Clematis Street. The project cost $1.8 Million in 1991; by 2001, private-sector reinvestment downtown has reached $500 Million (excluding City Place). TIF revenue generation is $5 million annually, giving the City of West Palm Beach the ability to reinvest in the central city or to subsidize alternative urban initiatives

Contact Info:

David Risinger, Division Manager, Urban Resource Group @ either: aquavistaI@aol.com or krisinger@kimley-horn.com

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