A turn-of-the-century street grid left West Palm Beach’s back alleys solely for deliveries and garbage pick-ups. Now, a new plan aims to reverse the out-of-sight, out-of-mind logic and to turn dingy alleys into vital parts of an active urban ecosystem.
The plan will start with improvements to the alley behind the 300 block of Clematis Street, starting sometime after October. Separate plans already are in place to improve the Clematis streetscape on that block and generate foot traffic, and to reconstruct the former Off the Hookah night club space to make room for a restaurant and a dozen shops, with a pass-through to the alley.
According to Jon Ward, executive director of the Community Redevelopment Agency, the alley’s look and uses will change. Pedestrians will be able to walk through shops to dine at tables in the alley, or to continue walking up the alley to another retail and restaurant courtyard up the block.
Envisioned by consultants Ecosistema Urbano, the plan will link leisure and retail environments.
“The alleyways are a great opportunity to create a new way of experiencing the city,” according to the firm’s initial report, released last April. “They can serve as passageways to connect new areas in a new attractive way that complements other means of moving across the city.”
The idea, Ward said, is “redoing alleyways and making them more people spaces, instead of delivery places and places where you put the garbage.”
The 300 block alley will be the first of a number of alley redesigns the city hopes to undertake.
The city will dig up the alley and replace the utility lines under it, from Dixie Highway on the west to Olive Avenue on the east. They would replace the asphalt with pavers or some other more pleasant finish and come up with a strategy to remove Dumpsters and limit deliveries to early mornings or other times that don’t conflict with pedestrian uses. There could be “valet pickups of garbage,” workers in golf carts who haul the garbage to a central pickup point, to free the alleys of the unpleasant sight and smell, Ward said.
The city commissioners, acting as the CRA board, vote Monday to approve $1,260,000 for the alley work.
The Clematis streetscape redesign, to take place from June to October, will take away many on-street parking spaces to make room for wider, curb-less sidewalks, shade trees and street-side dining areas. That $2 million project, once complete, will be repeated elsewhere on Clematis, from Narcissus to Sapodilla avenues.
Meanwhile, about a week from now, interior demolition starts at 314 Clematis, which once housed Off the Hookah. Thanks to a $180,000 John S. and James L. Knight Foundation grant that West Palm won in competition with cities nationwide, that space is being converted from standard retail and restaurant space into a business incubator for 12 small shops.
That project, with Ecosistema Urbano as the architects, is known as “12 for 12: Pop-up to rent.” The project takes on the street’s challenges in attracting retail by dividing the 14,000-square-foot bar space into smaller spaces suitable for new or local shops.
In this case, the alley design is being thought of as connected to the retail and restaurant use. In its larger plan, however, Ecosistema Urbano envisioned other themes for downtown alleys, to be decided depending on their location and context within the city.
Some would be that the firm terms leisure passageways, some would be cultural passageways and others, active passageways.
A leisure passageway could include a pop-up market, commercial uses, or bars and restaurants. A cultural passageway could have a forum, auditorium, exhibition space or cinema. An active passageway could have a climbing wall, training center, sport court or playground.