Plans to create waterfront shops, a boutique hotel and a main street through an outdoor shopping mall off PGA Boulevard are creating a buzz among the restaurant and small business owners there.
Real estate executives said they also want to add Class A office space and a “premier” residential tower to the mix at Downtown at the Gardens if Palm Beach Gardens officials sign off on the plans to be submitted in July for review.
Madison Marquette, the national operating firm handling the redevelopment, wants to enhance the food and drink offerings and is investigating rooftop dining as it seeks to maximize the waterfront, Senior Vice President Whitney Livingston said in an email.
Making shops face the lake to the east will be a “big plus for visibility,” said Cynthia Heathcoe, owner of the Contemporary Living furniture store.
“I’m excited about it. I just know that it’s something the plaza can definitely benefit from,” Heathcoe said of the makeover. “It will be a wonderful draw not only for locals, but for tourists as well.”
The cost of the project and duration of construction is still to be determined, according to Livingston. After it’s completed, it will be renamed The District at the Gardens.
The city planning staff will review the plans and suggest changes before it goes to the planning board, which will make a recommendation to the City Council.
Heathcoe’s lease is good through 2019, and she wants to be part of the new look. The question is how to survive until then. Business and foot traffic is slow, she said.
Some small business owners said they struggle to attract customers, because people will shop at Whole Foods and leave without realizing there’s much more to see.
The Tea & Spice Exchange, for example, opened at Downtown at the Gardens almost two years ago. Last week, a someone wandered into the store who hadn’t realized there were shops and restaurants in the middle, franchise owner John Gekas said.
Gekas said foot traffic is either “hot or cold,” but he expects the redesign will spur an increase and give Downtown at the Gardens an edge over places such as Jupiter’s Harbourside and CityPlace in West Palm Beach.
“I think when they’re done, there’ll be nothing like it around here,” Gekas said.
Whole Foods is planning a renovation of its own this fall to add “food trend-inspired innovations” and upgrades based on customer feedback, according to spokeswoman Heather McCready. The healthy grocery store will remain open during the six-month project.
The Cobb Theatre, another successful anchor, added a bar in the lobby and last year changed out all its seats for larger loungers. Frank Stryjewski, Cobb Theatres Chief Operating Officer, said the chain is very interested in adding a CinéBistro, which offers full-service dining and a full bar in the theater. They’ve had conversations with the landlord but haven’t reached a deal yet, he said.
Business at Blessed Boutique, a high-end women’s clothing store, has been stronger in the past six months than the other four years it’s been open, co-owner Samia Pedalino said. Foot traffic is good now, but redesigning the mall will bring in a lot more customers, she said.
“It’s awesome. It’s going to put this place on the map,” she said. “It’s going to make it the premiere shopping center in Palm Beach County.”
Julien Gremaud was already at the end of lease negotiations for his second Avocado Grill, which will open this November in the former RA Sushi space, when he learned of the improvements. They’re a bonus, he said.
“For sure, the mall has had its ups and downs. I’m not really depending on the traffic from the mall for the success of my restaurant,” Gremaud said. “I think that we are a destination.”
Gremaud said he always admired the space for its windows that open up for an “indoor-outdoor dining” feel. It’s perfectly located close to I-95, Alternate A1A and PGA Boulevard, he said.
In addition to its location, the mall has a nice mix of unique shops and brands like Urban Outfitters, Vanessa Tomchik said. Tomchik owns GreenPath Baby, a natural parenting store where moms can also stop to breast feed or change their babies.
The plaza is pretty, but it needs the changes will take it from looking nice to a “wow,” Tomchik said.
“We have the community to support that kind of a look and feel, so why not?” she said.