Elements of Urbanism: Downtown West Palm Beach

March 23, 2011 24 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

In 1993, West Palm Beach was featured in a 60 Minutes segment on urban decay. At the time, 80% of downtown properties were vacant. Today, West Palm Beach has one of the most vibrant downtown scenes in Florida.

Tale of the Tape

West Palm Beach Population 2010: 99,919 (City); 5,564,635 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1894)

Jacksonville Pop. 2009: 821,784 (City); 1,328,144 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); West Palm Beach (43,162)

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2009)

West Palm Beach (Miami): +10.77%
Jacksonville: +18.29%

Urban Area Population (2000 census)

West Palm Beach (Miami): 4,919,036 (ranked 5 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

West Palm Beach (Miami): 4,407.4
Jacksonville: 2,149.2

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2010

West Palm Beach: +17,816
Jacksonville: +86,167

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

West Palm Beach: Palm Beach County Convention Center (2004) - 100,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Connected to Convention Center:

West Palm Beach: N/A
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

West Palm Beach: Trump Plaza - 331 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies 2010 (City limits only):

West Palm Beach: zero (0)
Jacksonville: CSX (259), Winn-Dixie (306), Fidelity National Financial (366)


Urban infill obstacles:

West Palm Beach: Florida's real estate collapse.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.


Downtown Nightlife:

West Palm Beach: Clematis Street, CityPlace
Jacksonville: East Bay Street


Common Downtown Albatross:

Surface parking lots.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

West Palm Beach: 92 out of 100, according to walkscore.com
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

City Land Area

West Palm Beach: 55.1 square miles
Jacksonville: 757.7 square miles

About West Palm Beach

The city was founded by Henry Flagler as a community to house the servants working in the two grand hotels on the neighboring island of Palm Beach, across Lake Worth. The original spelling was "Westpalmbeach", but it was feared that the 13-letter word would be an ominous omen for the fledgling community. On November 5, 1894, 78 people met at the "Calaboose" (the first jail and police station located at Clematis St. and Poinsettia, now Dixie Hwy.) and passed the motion to incorporate the Town of West Palm Beach in what was then Dade County (now Miami-Dade County). This made West Palm Beach the oldest incorporated municipality in the county and in South Florida. The town council quickly addressed the building codes and the tents and shanties were replaced by brick, brick veneer, and stone buildings. The city grew rapidly in the 1920s as part of the Florida land boom. Many of the city's landmark structures and preserved neighborhoods were constructed during this period.

Originally, Flagler intended for his Florida East Coast Railway to have its terminus in West Palm but after the area experienced a deep freeze, he chose to extend the railroad to Miami instead.

In the 1960s, Palm Beach County's first enclosed shopping mall, the Palm Beach Mall, and an indoor arena were completed. These projects led to a brief revival for the city but crime continued to be a serious issue and by the early 1990s there were high vacancy rates downtown. Since the 1990s, developments such as CityPlace and the preservation and renovation of 1920s architecture in the nightlife hub of Clematis Street have seen a downtown resurgence in the entertainment and shopping district.

About Downtown West Palm Beach

Downtown West Palm Beach Amtrak and Tri-Rail commuter rail station

With two synergistic shopping and entertainment districts (the Clematis District and CityPlace) as well as world-class cultural venues, a signature waterfront, a growing residential and business community, and amazing weather; Downtown West Palm Beach is one of the country’s most exciting and most desirable mid-sized cities in the nation!

An already bustling core with award winning events like Sunfest and Clematis by Night, coupled with exciting new residential and civic developments, as well as new business and office development, sets the stage for establishing Downtown West Palm Beach as a unique, dynamic destination offering an authentic urban experience with a tropical twist.

Clematis District & City Place

When it comes to impressive downtowns, West Palm Beach makes a statement. You can feel the heartbeat of the Downtown District in its unforgettable faces and places. Its many attributes include a graceful ribbon of palm-tree lined waterfront, historic architecture and a full menu of dining, shopping, art galleries, night life and entertainment destinations. Hip, happening and hot, Downtown West Palm Beach has an irresistible charisma that attracts thousands of visitors, new residents, investors, entrepreneurs, artists, performers, students and high-profile media attention from around the nation.

Downtown West Palm beach is anchored by two distinct districts: The Clematis District, a vibrant, colorful and sometimes offbeat section of the city rich with history, arts and culture venues, family-friendly events, homegrown shops and familiar faces, located just steps from an awe-inspiring waterfront. It also serves as the county’s government center and has been the historic core for more than a century. There are more then 40 dining destinations, 30 shops and galleries and over 7,000 Downtown residences, live/work lofts and luxury condominiums. Two new signature public projects, The City Center and City Commons Waterfront, recently opened and helped to forever change the landscape of the area, adding important recreational, cultural, educational and visitor-focused amenities to the Clematis District and the Flagler Drive waterfront.

CityPlace, an Italian-inspired, mixed-use project is known around the country for its innovative outdoor shopping and dining concept. It’s home to more than 80 shops, 20 restaurants, a Muvico cinema, a performing arts venue and a spectacular show fountain.

An open-air trolley system connects the two districts, linking shops, restaurants, office buildings, schools, theatres, and the waterfront within a free and friendly system. The bright-red trolley has become an icon of this pedestrian-friendly Downtown, along with other distinctive transportation options such as bike and water taxis, and romantic horse and carriage rides.


CityPlace is an upscale lifestyle center in downtown West Palm Beach, Florida along South Rosemary Avenue. Besides from shops, the center also includes rental apartments, condos, and offices.

The property, which constitutes several city blocks, is chiefly credited for West Palm's urban renaissance. The area where CityPlace stands was formerly a poverty-stricken and high crime area.

Macy's, Muvico Parisian 20 and IMAX, and Publix are the center's anchors. Apart from shopping, dining, and cinema, the center is now at the forefront of West Palm Beach's entertainment complementing establishments located on nearby Clematis Street.

The Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts and Alexander W. Dreyfoos, Jr. School of the Arts are located within walking distance to CityPlace, as is the Palm Beach County Convention Center. An early-century trolleybus circles downtown between CityPlace and Clematis.

The shopping center is the epitome of a New Urbanist mixed-use development. Most of its architecture is West European-inspired, with mainly Mediterranean and Venetian elements. However the CityPlace Tower constructed in 2007, and associated with the original property, is postmodern. This tower has been downtown West Palm Beach's first office development in over twenty years. Later phases of CityPlace, including Montecito Palm Beach (formerly called The Mark at CityPlace) and CityPlace South Tower, retain loyalty to the original development's architecture. Excluding these more recent additions, CityPlace proper contains 570 private residences.

The Harriet Himmel Theater, a former Methodist church, is located at the center of CityPlace. Built in 1926 in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, it has undergone a six million dollar restoration, and serves today as a cultural center. Surrounding squares, arcades, and promenades feature 3.5 million dollars of 2,000-square-foot water fountains and lush landscaping.

With soaring windows, Venetian plaster finishes, colored glass, wood paneling and sloping walls crowned beneath a ceiling of rich Brazilian mahogany, the Palm Beach County Convention Center has arrived to claim its place as a premier convention destination and facility. This exquisite $84 million Convention Center, encompassing 350,000 square feet, offers the most comprehensive technology available within an intricately designed architectural masterpiece of style. With 100,000 square feet of exhibit hall space, more than 23,000 square feet of additional meeting space, capped with a magnificent 25,000 square foot grand ballroom, this pairing of substance with style will welcome in a new generation to the meeting experience surpassing all expectations.

This 19 acre site, is conveniently located just three miles from Palm Beach International Airport (PBIA), serviced by more than 16 airlines providing more than 200 daily flights through all major hubs. With Interstate 95 less than one mile away, the Florida Turnpike just moments west, and the beaches of Palm Beach a mere few miles east, the central location of the Palm Beach County Convention Center is both efficient and appealing. With the adjacent neighbors of CityPlace, (a $600 million entertainment complex of designer shops, select restaurants and clubs) and the nationally acclaimed Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, a perfect balance of culture, culinary arts and charm creates an unusual and classic convention or trade show experience.

Clematis Street

Clematis Street is the historical heart of Downtown West Palm Beach. Starting at Flagler Drive on the Intracoastal Waterway, walk west along Clematis Street and experience the indigenous flavor of the area's colorful boutiques, nightclubs, live music, restaurants, antique shops and historical landmarks. Thursday nights from 5:30-9pm come alive when Clematis Street transforms into Clematis By Night.

The new City Center opened in the Spring of 2009 and serves as a prominent civic landmark, encompassing the entire north side of the 400 block of Clematis St. between Quadrille Blvd. and Dixie Highway, and bordered to the north by Banyan Blvd. The $101.8 million complex totals 270,000 square feet and is destined to become an icon of the City skyline, defined by dramatic architecture and daily energy of its public components. It houses an efficient new, 150,000 sq.ft. City Hall, and incorporates the West Palm Beach Public Library, which relocated from Centennial Square in the 100 block of Clematis in April 2009, opening the entire street to the waterfront.

City Center is also home to the Palm Beach Photographic Centre, recognized around the country as one of the premier educational centers of its kind. Master photographers from around the world will offer personalized instruction and exhibit their work, attracting both amateur and professional photographers on a daily basis to the Centre. The annual FotoFusion festival will draw thousands of new visitors to the Clematis District each year. In total, this gem in the county’s cultural crown is expected to generate $50 million annually to the area.

The Waterfront

The Waterfront and City Commons project is the long-awaited answer to bringing the spectacular West Palm Beach waterfront to life! Few cities in the United States have a waterfront feature like Flagler Drive, a graceful, winding roadway along the Intracoastal lined with stately Royal palms. A collaboration led by internationally acclaimed urban planners and designers, artists and engineers transformed the waterfront with features such as a mile-long esplanade, sweeping green spaces and new amenities that showcase the City’s heritage, culture and natural beauty.

The Waterfront and City Commons project opened with a spectacular celebration on Saturday, February 20th, 2010.  Over 100,000 people came to the event and were delighted by the new project!! Currently, you can find entertainment on the waterfront each weekend, enjoy spectacular laser light shows every night at 7pm, 8pm and 9pm, and enjoy a variety of diverse events.

Random Downtown

Random sights and scenes of downtown West Palm Beach.

Article and photos by Ennis Davis