Byline: Marilyn DeMartini

Across the Intracoastal Waterway from the affluent haven of Palm Beach and its renowned Worth Avenue, a new mixed-use development casts upscale shopping, dining and entertainment in south Florida in a new light.
West Palm Beach is now home to CityPlace, the 55-acre mixed-use development that goes beyond what the Palladium Co. and its team of associated partners have done in other cities, with more cultural and entertainment elements.
“This is an emerging concept in our business,” said Bruce Macleod, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Palladium. “CityPlace is meant to appeal to an entire array of experiences, not just shopping.”
“We were not building a mall, we were building a city — we are malled to death,” said Howard Elkus, principal with Elkus/Manfredi Architects, the Boston firm that joined forces with Palladium to design CityPlace. Elkus’s design projects include Copley Place, 730 Michigan Avenue, Chicago and Seattle’s Pacific Place.
The goal was to create a rich mix of residential, entertainment and retail entities in one of the fastest-growing and highly touristed parts of south Florida.
“We had enough area to do a project with cultural mass,” said Macleod. In a small area, you can’t get the full shopping, entertainment and city experience. Building apartments is part of what makes CityPlace function properly; the apartments over the stores are highly popular,” he adds, “If you want to go shopping, you’ll go to Boca (Town Center) or the Gardens (at Palm Beach) because there’s more retail mass. What we want to offer is something always going on here, the way downtowns are supposed to be.”
Nancy Graham, former mayor of Palm Beach, is widely credited with revitalizing the Palm Beach retail scene. In the mid-Nineties, she spearheaded the development of downtown West Palm Beach. Its Clematis Street became a vibrant, heavily trafficked stretch of boutiques, galleries, restaurants and bars with a Soho feeling.
The street’s success spurred development of the 72 acres of vacant land that lay nearby. The land was what remained of a joint-venture real estate development that fell victim to foreclosure in the economic slump of the early Nineties.
The city of West Palm Beach acquired the various properties for $20 million and sent out a request for proposal for urban development. Three developers came back with retail-based projects, but Palladium, led by president and chief executive officer Ken Himmel, had the most ambitious and far-reaching.
The land mass provided the impetus for a grand creation. Macleod’s background in commercial real estate, including a stint as a vice president of Federated Stores Inc. in charge of real estate, gave him the expertise to direct the $550 million CityPlace into a “lifestyle” project. Muvico Theaters came in to take the site that General Cinemas left behind when they closed many Florida theaters last year. Muvico, a Fort Lauderdale-based circuit of 11 Southeast megaplex theaters, saw the two-story space and envisioned the Paris Opera. In keeping with its grandiose, detail-intensive style, Muvico created a space with the European-flavored architecture, baroque murals and a grand carpeted staircase. The 20-screen theater has columned, draped entries and plush stadium-seated auditoriums. Concession stands have gourmet menu items.
Muvico Theaters also added amenities like valet parking, a supervised children’s playroom and a private club room with a full-service bar.
Ten restaurants round out the upper level mix, including national favorites like the Cheesecake Factory and Legal Seafoods, regional hot spots like Mark’s and Mezzanotte and newcomers Blue Martini, Tamayo and City Cellar.
Macy’s signed on after Macleod showed CityPlace plans to a friend at Federated, who felt the space would complement Macy’s already strong presence in south Florida malls. The 100,000-square-foot store is a new Macy’s concept. Rather than just a “resort” store, Macy’s is a specially merchandised store that caters predominantly to the female Palm Beach customer, with all women’s product on the first floor, for easy access.
At the entrance, an atrium rotunda creates a strong street presence. The main floor focuses on cosmetics, accessories, jewelry, high fashion ready-to-wear and shoes. The second-story escalator, lit by the atrium dome, draws shoppers to what Peter Sachse, vice chairman and director of stores for Macy’s East, calls, a “hipper, cooler, of-the-moment” junior department.
Macy’s opened the door for other retailers, such as BCBG Max Azria, Kenneth Cole, Armani A|X, Hugo Boss, Betsey Johnson, Nicole Miller and others to join the merchant mix. CityPlace now has a 94 percent leased rate, after only four months of operation.
The local and regional tenant mix provides some of CityPlace’s individual personality.
Independent specialty stores include Nose for Clothes, Jami’s and Deborah James, Florida retailers that give a neighborhood feel for local shoppers. CityPlace gave these stores an ideal expansion opportunity.
When asked “Why CityPlace?” Ed Verdesca, owner of Jami’s, said, “You gotta be there! Look at the place!” The Naples, Fla.-based retailer has five other stores, three on Florida’s West Coast, one in Destin, and one in Mizner Park in Boca Raton. The CityPlace store opened just over a month ago.
Jami’s caters to a woman who travels, said Verdesca. “You won’t find black here; we carry vacation clothing in colors and light fabrications — a lot of silks and linens.” “When we first came to the East Coast [of Florida], we thought the customer was totally different than the West Coast. But we’ve found our customer is the same,” said Fredi Verdesca, Ed’s wife and business partner.
“At CityPlace, it’s too early to determine, but we know our customer is there. She’s a little more dressed up on the East Coast, but the mature woman will be very pleased with our store. The mix is now totally integrated: The Midwesterners go to the East Coast and the East Coasters go to the West Coast [of Florida]. It’s all the same,” she adds. Though the store is still surrounded by some ongoing construction, Verdesca adds, “We think this is going to be a very strong store and will grow quickly.”
A Nose for Clothes, Miami-based retailer with two Atlanta stores and seven south Florida stores, opened at CityPlace Dec. 1. Freda Greenbaum, vice president, has been pleasantly surprised — or maybe shocked — by CityPlace’s popularity.
“Traffic far exceeds what we’re used to, being a destination store. We have a great opportunity to do more item selling, in addition to the wardrobe building we’re known for. We can dress customers for all occasions, from casual to cocktail. They can get it all in one place,” she said. “The excitement in CityPlace is positive for business,” she added. “There is a tremendous amount of impulse shopping.”
One local retailer made the jump across the Intracoastal, moving from Palm Beach to CityPlace. Deborah James has had an eclectic fashion store in Boca Raton’s Mizner Park for 14 years.
Last year, she took a 3,000-square-foot space at CityPlace, using the light, open store to create a whole new atmosphere. “Overall, we’re very pleased. We’ve had a regular customer who is high-end, sophisticated and understands fashion. Here, we have more traffic and tourists, so there’s a more crosscultural customer. At CityPlace, we’ll see customers who don’t know us. I’m banking on more traffic to add to our established client base.” James said.
Though CityPlace is sometimes compared with Boca Raton’s Mizner Park, the 600,000-square-foot retail space is twice as large. With Barnes & Noble, F.A.O. Schwarz, Restoration Hardware, Wild Oats Gourmet Market and over 78 national, regional and local tenants, CityPlace is a shopping experience beyond the malls.
Macleod calls the development “business class,” rather than designer. The attraction does not rival Worth Avenue’s designer mix of stores. Rather, CityPlace combines luxury and must-have retail, entertainment, dining and culture, to create a mini city.
The 586 residences include loft work spaces, condos, apartments and townhomes.The residential units, by Roger Fry, a Coconut Grove architect, were sold as ground was being broken.
CityPlace’s Italian town square concept revolves around the restoration of a grand historic Spanish Colonial Revival church at the center of the development. Developers met with neighborhood and cultural groups, who convinced the architects to save the church from the wrecking ball.
“The building was a gift,” said Macleod, who entrusted the $6 million restoration, including a generous donation from arts benefactor Harriet Himmel Gilman, to Rick Gonzalez of REG Architects of West Palm Beach. “We took what was an eyesore — the only building on the site — and brought it to its full glory in Palladium Plaza,” added Elkus.
The church, which will now become the Harriet Himmel Gilman Theater for Cultural and Performing Arts, is already booked for numerous concerts and performances, capitalizing on the ardent cultural following in the Palm Beaches.
Hand-carved antique Italian fountains, frescoes, Mediterranean colors, lighting, tropical landscaping and open-air setting give the center a comfortable, urban feel.
“We wanted CityPlace to be more vibrant, more diverse, with a sense of integrity. We wanted it to flow architecturally as a legitimate part of the city,” said Elkus.
Macleod calls Elkus “one of the most talented people I’ve worked with. “Nothing is repetitive here, and that is not without challenges as a developer. This was like building 25 separate projects.”