Metro Jacksonville visits the downtown of a small South Florida community that focused on the arts to successfully carve out an urban niche in a metropolitan area with more than five million residents: Delray Beach.
18 Years Earlier: Focusing On The Arts
Atlantic Avenue heading into downtown Delray Beach.
This 1994 article describes artists invading downtown Delray Beach as a part of a nationwide trend, and their impact on revitalization:
Artists are strange birds. They're also urban pioneers. When they fly into a neighborhood, springtime can happen.Full article: http://www.delraybeachartdistrict.com/
In the '80s, a pattern emerged in certain struggling sections of American cities. First came the young artists and small art galleries. Then followed the pricier art emporiums. Finally, when a neighborhood had become chi-chi, rents rose and the pathfinders had to move on to more affordable urban frontiers. Donald Hornby wouldn't mind facing that problem. ``It could happen in Delray Beach, but not for awhile,'' said the owner of Hornby Gallery, 422 E. Atlantic Ave. ``Right now, I'm just enjoying watching this area grow into an art center.''
Over the past two years, a few blocks of the avenue have been transformed, largely by art. The area has some dozen art galleries. Most were opened recently by youngish entrepreneurs like Hornby. New antique shops and auction houses are also appearing, as well as restaurants and open-air cafes.
Is the Atlantic Avenue area in danger of becoming Nantucket-on-the-Intracoastal - too quaint for words? If so, it's an affliction other Palm Beach County towns would envy.
Main drags such as Lake Avenue in Lake Worth and Clematis Street in West Palm Beach covet an increased art presence. Art galleries have also clustered in other areas, notably the upscale Gallery Center building in Boca Raton and Tequesta's Gallery Square strip mall.
In short, the flogging of fine art isn't just a Palm Beach phenomenon anymore.
``Galleries are an excellent, interim-use redevelopment tool,'' said Chris Brown, executive director of Delray Beach's Community Redevelopment Agency. He said rising rents could inevitably force some galleries to leave Atlantic Avenue, but he predicted that wouldn't happen for at least five years. ``Then galleries often reopen on side streets.''
Why is this happening now? Redevelopment officials say it's part of a nationwide trend. New suburban glitz is out. Old downtown charm is in. In Delray Beach and Lake Worth, another factor is relatively cheap rent. Rents in both cities run roughly $10-$12 per square foot, which is more affordable for dealers who represent young or mid-career artists whose works don't command six-figure prices. The dealers can't afford Palm Beach's Worth Avenue, where monthly rents run into the thousands of dollars.
Downtown Delray Beach Today
The Delray Beach Tennis Center was built in 1992 and currently holds 8,200 spectators. Since its opening, it has hosted several Fed Cup and Davis Cup matches.
The development of the former Delray Beach Elementary School into Old School Square was a major catalyst for stimulating the revitalization of downtown Delray Beach.
Discover Old School Square Cultural Arts Center and National Historic Site, where beautifully restored, early 20th century school buildings enrich the greater Delray Beach community and South Florida with visual and performing arts. This award-winning, nationally recognized cultural center successfully combined historic preservation and the arts to become the catalyst for the 1990's renaissance of downtown Delray Beach.http://www.oldschool.org/
The charming Cornell Museum of Art and American Culture (c. 1913) presents rotating local, national and international exhibits of fine art, crafts and pop culture. The intimate, 323-seat Crest Theatre (c. 1925) presents world-class musicals, comedy, variety, Broadway cabaret with New York's hottest stars, and lectures with nationally renowned speakers. The Vintage Gymnasium is used primarily as a rental facility for wedding ceremonies, receptions, meetings, craft shows, and other corporate and private events. The restored classrooms are used for Old School Square's art and photography classes; they are also used as rental spaces for meetings and seminars.
Old School Square's outdoor Entertainment Pavilion was completed in 2002 as part of the center's master plan for expansion. This facility hosts all of the major festivals in downtown Delray Beach.
Old School Square is located on the corner of Atlantic and Swinton Avenues in downtown Delray Beach, Florida, a first-class resort destination and a diverse, vibrant "All-America" city. This "Village by the Sea" is situated on the Atlantic Ocean between Boca Raton and West Palm Beach. Delray Beach is just 30 minutes south of Palm Beach International Airport and 45 minutes north of Fort Lauderdale.
Old School Square's Mission is to be the community's cultural center, enriching the lives of all people by presenting diverse experiences in visual and performing arts, education, and entertainment; nurturing artistic expression and involvement; providing a community gathering place; and preserving our National Historic Site.
Bisected by the Florida East Coast Railway, the heart of downtown Delray Beach centers around Atlantic Avenue. To create a more pedestrian-scale avenue, this former four-lane roadway was reduced. Now two lanes, automobile traffic backs up, but the surrounding pedestrian-scale atmosphere has flourished.
Nearly 20 galleries clustered around the intersection of East Atlantic Avenue and Federal Highway make up the Delray Beach Art District. full for more information: http://www.downtowndelraybeach.com/downtown-gallery-district
During the last decade, several high-density residential developments have been constructed without subtracting from the scale of the downtown area.
About Downtown Delray Beach
Known worldwide as a first-class beach resort, Delray Beach is located in southern Palm Beach County, directly on the Atlantic Ocean. Delray Beach offers one of Floridas busiest and friendliest downtowns, full of authentic charm and just steps from one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.http://www.delraybeachartdistrict.com/
Boutiques, galleries, numerous world class restaurants and wide cobbled sidewalks dotted by outdoor cafes under lazy palms attract upscale visitors from all over the world. Beachy shopping days end with a vibrant nightlife as slow moving luxury cars cruise the ave nightly from 5 PM until well after midnight. Every evening the downtown bustles with shoppers, foodies, music lovers and art lovers, as the shops, galleries restaurants and nightclubs welcome patrons after the sun goes down. Valet parkers are situated on almost every block of Atlantic Avenue, so parking is never a worry.
As we ponder the future of downtown Jacksonville, communities like Delray Beach should be viewed as successful examples of how to implement strategies that carve out vibrant, pedestrian-scale atmospheres within highly competitive urban markets.
Article and photographs by Ennis Davis.