From his used car dealership across the street, Rolf Schilter gazed at Grandview Public Market’s gleaming white building with its large mural of tropical leaves and shook his head.
“It’s a nice place but for people from somewhere else; it’s not for the people around here,” said Schilter. “A $15 salad? That’s a little bit expensive for the neighborhood.”
But pricey salads, along with nitro cold brew coffees, poke bowls — not to mention parking headaches — are the vanguard of an industrial revolution taking place in a once-moribund commercial neighborhood in West Palm Beach, just south of the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.
The heart of the branded Warehouse District is the Grandview Public Market, where a wildly successful food hall opened in February, joining the complex’s Elizabeth Avenue Station artisan retail shops. The same building will house the Steam Horse craft beer brewery, poised to open in early summer. Near the squash courts (yes, there are squash courts), a former frozen foods warehouse also sports Studio, Etc. — a barre, spin and yoga studio — while other former warehouses contain office space and a rum distillery, still under construction.
It’s part of about 87,000 square feet of warehouses that developer Hunter Beebe of Palm Beach and Johnstone Capital Partners have assembled to transform under-used early-to-mid 20th century warehouses into the city’s newest destination for dining, hanging out, working out and even working.
Almost any time of day, people on laptops can be spotted on Grandview’s covered, open air Loading Dock lounge.
Across the country, from Los Angeles to Nashville, warehouse neighborhoods are being repurposed into entertainment centers and arts communities, two uses Beebe hopes to combine.
“We want to be a cultural center,” said Beebe recently. “We want to be a place where people come to have a creative experience.”
Synergy is a word that comes up frequently in Beebe’s conversations about the Warehouse District. He talks about building a ecosystem of local businesses, where each new enterprise builds upon and enhances the existing ones.
The idea includes apartment buildings that Beebe has proposed for the Murphy Construction warehouse site on the Market’s south end.
Beebe was reluctant to talk about the apartments until plans are approved, but real estate experts say their construction will attract other new businesses.
“It will give a lot of credibility and life to that area,” said Bill Reiss, a commercial real estate broker with Corcoran Group. “If you figure a couple hundred Millennials living there, there will have to be some more commerce there, as well.”
Prices in the area have already started to rise, according to Reiss.
“Values are going up, no doubt about it. The whole Old Okeechobee area will all be gentrified,” said Reiss.
A narrow canal separates the city’s 1920s Grandview Heights and Flamingo Park neighborhoods from the warehouses built lining the Seaboard Coast Line railroad tracks (now CSX) and along winding Old Okeechobee Road.
For a hundred years, the area was the city’s economic engine.
Streets named “Market” and “Dock” reflect the its origins as the terminus for fruit and vegetable barges coming from Everglades farms to the city’s 1918 Municipal Market, where the Armory Art Center stands today.
(Today, the former turning basin for those barges is the palm-fringed Howard Park pond used as a background for national TV reporters’ stand-ups when President Trump visits Mar-a-Lago.)
For now, the District is an island of cool amid a bleached-out tangle of industrial buildings, home to construction companies, auto body shops, garages for a property management company’s equipment and a VFW post, where on a recent busy Friday afternoon no one seemed interested in the fancy project a few blocks away - or visiting.
“Nope, too far away to affect us,” said a bartender.
Beebe wasn’t the first to see possibility in the city’s empty warehouses.
Even before the 2008 recession, former owners of the renovated Serta mattress factory on Clare Avenue commissioned an artist to cover the building in a flamboyant mural reminiscent of Miami’s Wynwood Walls area. Today, the building, two blocks from the Warehouse District complex, contains an indoor soccer field and party rental space, a gun dealer and Studio 1016, a co-working office Trina Chaney-Hoo opened four years ago
“It’s a great thing that’s happening to our area. We talked about this concept a few years ago, about making it the next Wynwood of West Palm Beach,” said Chaney-Hoo, who runs a luxury wedding planning company. “It’s being driven by a whole new demographic of people, people from the island (of Palm Beach) rather than just West Palm Beachers.”
Jason Yepes, a manager at City Indoor Soccer, said having people on the streets at night, coupled with improved lighting, makes the area feel more secure.
“I don’t think people felt as safe walking around as they do now,” said Yepes.
The Market’s small parking lot means patrons must park along adjacent streets during lunch and dinner hours, leaving little space for other business’s customers. And that’s even before the brewery opens.
“We don’t have enough parking for ourselves, so at busy times, members usually park on the street, which can be impossible if the Market is busy,” said Becca Hargreaves, an owner of Crossfit 1401, across the street, who says she tolerates the parking situation for the new energy the project has brought to the neighborhood.
“I think it’s going to great for our business and for the community. We’ve already gotten a few new members from it.”
Gary Walter opened Central Bark Doggy Day Care a few months before the Market’s debut.
“I think it’s great, it’s bringing new people into the neighborhood every day. I’m really looking forward to the brewery opening,” said Walter. “I did put up no parking tow company signs, though.”
Down the street at Griffin Collision Center, Dan Savage, pounding dents out of the fender of his boss’s race car, said anything that helps the neighborhood thrive seems a good idea, but he doesn’t ever expect to grab a beer or sandwich at the Market.
“It’s bringing a new atmosphere to a neighborhood that’s kind of rundown, but I hear the prices are a little high,” said Savage. “We work at a body shop. The idea of spending ridiculous money on food, well…”
If the old warehouses all become trendy new businesses, Schilter wonders where people will go for quotidian tasks like getting a car fixed.
He said, “Where else do you go to repair your things?”