Plans to remake Downtown Palm Beach Gardens, including the demolition of The Cheesecake Factory restaurant to make way for a 280-unit apartment building, go before the city council Thursday.
The proposal from Downtown’s owners, Chicago-based Shopcore Properties, also calls for demolishing the north-end building across from The Cheesecake Factory, which houses Texas de Brazil restaurant, and erecting a 174-room hotel in its place.
The hotel will look out over a new east-west road cutting across the northern portion of the 16-year-old plaza.
City planners recommend approval of the proposal, which secured the support of the city’s Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board on June 8. The council meeting starts at 6 p.m. Thursday at City Hall (masks required) or can be viewed online.
Since paying $141 million to buy Downtown in 2014, Shopcore has been aggressively redefining the shopping center due west of the Gardens Mall.
Gone are TooJay’s Deli and Urban Outfitters, to be replaced by outdoors retail giant REI Co-op, expected to open next year. A 116,000-square-foot Life Time athletic club is rising on the northwest corner of the site along with a 425-space parking garage.
Anchors Whole Foods Market and the 16-screen CMX movie theater remain, although theater owners have indicated they plan to renovate as well.
Shopcore won’t say whether Cheesecake, Texas de Brazil and other tenants displaced by the project would be back once work is complete.
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 told OnGardens.org in June.
“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.
Accompanying the apartment building at the Cheesecake location in Downtown’s northeast corner would be a 432-space parking garage.
Urbanizing a suburban-style downtown
The move is part of an effort to inject new life into a shopping plaza that has been plagued by its lack of street access and inability to tap into the built-in customers that come with hotels, apartment dwellers and offices.
“The proposed ‘Full Vision’ redevelopment for Downtown Palm Beach Gardens embraces the intent of a true mixed-use development,” city staff wrote in its report. “The addition of a multifamily residential component along with the vertically integrated mixed-use hotel tower to the existing mix of commercial and office uses will greatly increase the activity on the site throughout the day and will provide new ‘eyes on the street’ at night to increase site security.”
The plans, first presented to the city council in May 2017, call for no changes in the southern portion of the project, where restaurants such as Yard House and stores such as west elm draw customers despite ongoing plaza reconstruction.
Ironically, developers are finding that the best approach to regain sustainability is to return to the street grid of old, drawing shoppers by foot and bicycle as well as by car from nearby neighborhoods, 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 is, Gibbs said.
“The best thing is to put in offices and hotels,” Gibbs said told OnGardens.org in June. “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.
No changes for hard left turn
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 across the lake. It would have restaurants and offices in its bottom two floors.
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.
© 2021 Joel Engelhardt. All rights reserved.