NEW: Kravis Center planning $40 million redesign to help traffic issue

5:39 p.m Friday, Jan. 26, 2018 Local
The Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach plans to replace much of fountain with a walk-up plaza and to move the glass facade outward to enlarge the lobby. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

The Kravis Center for the Performing Arts plans a $40 million redesign to expand its glass-faced lobby, transform its entrance fountain into a stepped plaza and add a valet garage on the east side, while reconfiguring its traffic-prone main garage on the west.

“It’s part of a strategic planning process our board underwent a couple of years ago,” CEO Judy Mitchell said. “They wanted to focus on enhancing the customer experience.”

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The main idea is “making it nicer and better and improving the flow of traffic in and around the Kravis Center,” she said. “It’s first and foremost an improved traffic flow design.”

Aspects of the redesign won approvals in January from the city Planning Board and Downtown Action Committee. Provided the city commission gives its final approval, expected in the next few months, construction would take 20 months, starting this summer and finishing in fall of 2019, with no interruptions in the performance schedule, Mitchell said.

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Despite the changes, expect the Kravis, which hosts more than 500,000 people a year to concerts and events, to keep its look as a prominent architectural landmark on the rise at downtown’s Okeechobee Boulevard approach.

Perhaps most noticeably, the facade’s glass curtain wall will be pushed outward, to add 5,200 square feet of space to the lobby, “to hold more patrons, in a more open area during the beginning or intermissions,” Mitchell said.

Out front the signature fountain will shrink significantly, to be replaced with steps that rise to the entrance from Okeechobee, and with a reworked plaza along South Sapodilla Avenue. “Now there’s a city sidewalk, a foreboding hedge and a body of water, the moat, so it’s not very welcoming.”

When done, what’s currently the fountain will be pretty, more open and pedestrian-friendly for people walking over from the Marriott or Palm Beach County Convention Center, Mitchell said. The changes coincide with city efforts to make Okeechobee easier for walkers and bicyclists to navigate.

There’ll be another plaza at the corner of Tamarind and Okeechobee, with an interactive marquee and benches.

On the Sapodilla side, the Michael and Andrew Gosman Amphitheatre will be demolished, to make room for a valet garage. That will be faster and more convenient for valet users, because valets won’t have to run all the way to the main garage, just to the new 200-plus space valet garage, near where patrons exit the building. It also will mean less traffic for all patrons, since fewer exiting cars will be crowding onto Tamarind. There’ll also be more entrance and exit lanes from the valet area onto Sapodilla, to ease traffic flow.

Last year, 25,600 people used the Kravis’ valet service.

The main garage also will see major changes to ease the flow of cars. It’s a five-level garage but as it stands now, nobody wants to use the fourth or fifth levels, because you have to spiral down to get out, Mitchell said. So plans call for adding an interconnected ramp up to the fourth floor, to make it and the fifth easier to access, with an exit right out to Okeechobee instead of Tamarind.

The bland garage exterior will be wrapped artistically to make it pretty and give it “a sense of destination,” she added.

There’ll be technological enhancements as well, such as signs that show how many parking spaces are available, and red and green lights above each parking space, to be able to tell from a distance if they’re open.

There’ll be tech changes in the box office, as well, and a new porte-cochere for the artist’s entrance on the north side, but no changes in programming for the venue or in seating.

A capital campaign is planned to raise the $40 million.