The continuing evolution of Palm Beach Gardens’ fledgling downtown calls for the demolition of The Cheesecake Factory restaurant to make way for a 280-unit apartment building.
The proposed move, announced Tuesday before a city advisory board, adds residents — an integral component of any downtown, even one started in the suburban shadow of the Gardens Mall.
Also gone will be the north end restaurants and shops across from The Cheesecake Factory, including Texas de Brazil restaurant, replaced by a 174-room hotel sitting atop two stories of restaurants, stores and offices. A 432-space parking garage will rise behind the apartment building.
The hotel will look out over a new east-west road, filling a gap left by the removal of two sets of escalators and crossing the plaza now used for weekend concerts.
The narrow, traffic-calmed road would split the project between its north end, anchored by the 16-screen CMX movie theater (which will keep its escalator) and a now-under-construction 116,000-square-foot Life Time athletic club, and shops such as west elm, restaurants and a Whole Foods Market to the south.
The road would stop at the lakefront, which Shopcore plans to enliven with an “event lawn,” two dog parks and the carousel moved from the center’s pedestrian mall.
Also on the north side of the new road, in the place previously occupied by TooJay’s Deli and Urban Outfitters, Shopcore has signed outdoors retailer REI Co-op to open next year.
The Cheesecake Factory, a hotly pursued addition to any center, is an original tenant. However, such a large restaurant must produce high sales numbers and it may have been falling short in recent years, Gardens-based restaurant broker Richard Lackey said.
“It’s been the conversation for a couple of years that Cheesecake may not stay there,” he said.
The departure would leave Cheesecake Factory in just two Palm Beach County locations, Rosemary Square in West Palm Beach and near the Town Center mall in Boca Raton.
There’s no word from the developers as to whether Cheesecake or Texas de Brazil would return after the rebuild.
The list of restaurants that have departed Downtown over the years is long. It includes Max’s Grille, Cabo Flats, Dirty Martini, Rosa Mexicano, MJ Fresh, The Grape, Strip House and City Kitchen. Two large restaurant spaces remain empty across from Cheesecake Factory.
The presentation did not make clear how construction would impact Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, which would be on the south side of the new roadway. Shopcore officials did not return calls and emails for comment.
Pursuing the new retail playbook
It’s a mid-course correction for a center that started in 2005, providing more of the critical mass that drives downtowns — residents who will provide eyes on the street and patrons in the stores and restaurants.
Downtown, cut off from a street grid by major roads and the Gardens Mall, received a taste of built-in residents with the construction in 2007 of the 166-unit Landmark condos. It’s across the lake along with the 180-room Hilton Garden Inn, both linked to Downtown by pedestrian bridges.
Shopcore’s approach follows the new retail playbook as brick-and-mortar stores strive to survive in the age of online shopping. It also aligns with an approach presented by Shopcore in May 2017 to the Gardens City Council.
Ironically, the best approach to save shopping centers is a return to form by embracing the street grid of old, drawing shoppers by foot and bicycle as well as by car, said retail expert Bob Gibbs of Gibbs Planning Group in Birmingham, Mich.
Downtown, hemmed in by Alternate A1A, PGA Boulevard and the Gardens Mall, has to pursue other steps and it has checked off all the boxes, Gibbs said.
“The best thing is to put in offices and hotels,” Gibbs said. “Hotels are really great because it brings in fresh people every few days with American Express cards.”
Additionally, every office worker supports 25 square feet of retail, he said. Shopcore is seeking to more than double its allowed office space, adding 28,000 square feet on the second-floor of the hotel structure.
But Downtown captures another critical feature of the new-look retail center. It doesn’t depend on department stores, which are dying in America, said Gibbs, author of the 2012 book “Principles of Urban Retail Planning and Development.”
Downtown has turned to smaller, more easily replaced anchors, such as west elm, REI and Life Time. REI, for example, is filling a void left by Urban Outfitters.
Another staple of American life, the grocery store, is also in demand among landlords, he said. Downtown has that built in, with the only Whole Foods in north county as an original tenant.
Shopcore’s plan passes 6-1
The proposal received a warm welcome Tuesday from the city’s Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board, except for one member. The board voted 6-1 to recommend approval of the plans to the city council. The lone objection came from former City Council member Carl Sabatello, a builder who called the project too big and worried that the new east-west road would be better without cars.
Shopcore representatives assured him that the design of the road, 10-feet wide and elevated in portions with varying paver colors and patterns, would slow traffic.
The developers plan to add more direct access to the parking garage from Gardens Parkway, which runs along the north end of the property, and they agreed to keep watch on the hard-to-navigate left-turn out of the center onto Gardens Parkway just west of Alternate A1A.
The staff report said the city had raised concerns about the intersection but “the applicant does not believe there will be adverse impacts.” However, Shopcore said it “understands these concerns and is agreeable to monitor this intersection and install a traffic signal if warranted and approved by Palm Beach County.”
The hotel would rise nine stories, or 124 feet, far lower than the 17-story and 15-story towers at the Landmark condos. The apartment building, called Alta at the Gardens, and adjoining garage would be eight stories or 82 feet. The garage would be added to the southeast end of the existing 880-space, four-story garage.
A 425-space garage is rising on the project’s west side and the center has 1,131 surface parking spaces, bringing total parking to 2,868 spaces.
© 2021 Joel Engelhardt. All rights reserved.