Slicing the Cheesecake: Council embraces Downtown plan calling for Cheesecake Factory to go

ShopCore Properties wins city approval for massive changes at Downtown Palm Beach Gardens.

The biggest step in the transformation of Downtown Palm Beach Gardens won city council approval Thursday without a single word about the popular restaurant about to be served by a wrecking ball. 

The Cheesecake Factory is still open and serving food but it stands in the way of plans developed over several years by the plaza’s Chicago-based owner, ShopCore Properties.

Kevin Mysliwiec, ShopCore’s senior director of development, offered no timeline for when construction would begin on a 280-unit apartment building on the slice of land in Downtown’s northeast corner currently containing Cheesecake.

Clearing the Cheesecake building and a neighboring building containing the Texas de Brazil restaurant is the first step in construction of the apartment building and a 174-room hotel.

“It’s the pinnacle of ShopCore’s plan for transformation of Downtown Palm Beach Gardens,” Mysliwiec said.

As for whether Cheesecake will return in a new building at the plaza west of the Gardens Mall, Mysliwiec won’t say.

“We have a relationship with them,” Mysliwiec said after the meeting. “We want to work with them.”

He added, however, that his company doesn’t plan to sit on its “entitlements,” the rights approved Thursday. Last year, he pointed out, the company moved quickly after the council in June approved rebuilding Downtown’s plazas, moving its carousel to the lakefront and knocking out escalators.

Construction permits were pulled in July. And the work, which dragged on through the COVID lockdowns, is now expected to be completed by fall, Mysliwiec said.

The 174-room, nine-story hotel looms over the east entry to the proposed east-west road. (Presentation to city by Shopcore, Cotleur & Hearing, CREATE Architecture Planning & Design and edsa)

It’s an Aloft

Chicago-based Shopcore won raves from council members for its plans, which also include a 174-room Aloft hotel with restaurants on the ground floor and offices on the second floor and, next to the apartment building, a 432-space parking garage.

“This has a little bit of a wow factor,” Council member Carl Woods said. “It’s probably one of the best presentations I’ve seen.”

Council member Mark Marciano praised the landscape and architecture as “really unique and exceptional.” A representative of New York City-based CREATE Architecture Planning and Design attended the meeting but didn’t speak.

Council members heard how one of the most notable changes, a new east-west road cutting across the center plaza, will feature raised roadways, pavers and curves to assure cars don’t speed across.

Downtown Gardens
Downtown Palm Beach Gardens plans presented Tuesday to the Palm Beach Gardens Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board. (Presentation to city by Shopcore, Cotleur & Hearing, CREATE Architecture Planning & Design and edsa)

Less traffic

Nicole Plunkett of Shopcore’s Jupiter-based land planner, Cotleur & Hearing, pointed out the new approach is expected to generate less traffic than the center’s original plans, approved in 2003.

A big contributor to lower traffic counts is the reduction of seats at the 16-screen CMX Cinemas theater, which will drop from 2,474 seats to 1,700 in a major renovation that Woods said would be starting soon. Plans also call to reduce retail space by 24,000 square feet.

They also learned that the vexing interchange at the project’s north exit onto Gardens Parkway — where drivers heading to Interstate 95 face a near-blind left turn — will be studied for a stoplight after the 116,000-squarefoot Life Time Athletic health club opens next year. 

The 280-unit apartment building, called Alta at the Gardens, as seen from the west. (Presentation to city by Shopcore, Cotleur & Hearing, CREATE Architecture Planning & Design and edsa)

But as Gardens council members know from their dispute over a stoplight outside of Bay Hill Estates, traffic signals must meet traffic thresholds judged by Palm Beach County. Shopcore’s traffic engineer from Kimley-Horn & Associates told the council if the intersection didn’t qualify after Life Time opens it surely will qualify for a stoplight after the hotel and apartment building open.

But that could be years. How long? No one would say.

© 2021 Joel Engelhardt. All rights reserved.

Author: Joel Engelhardt

Joel Engelhardt is an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor based in Palm Beach Gardens. He spent more than 40 years in the newspaper business, including 28 years at The Palm Beach Post. As a reporter, he covered countywide growth, the 2000 election and the birth of Cityplace in West Palm Beach. As an editor, he oversaw probes into the opioid scourge, private prisons, police-involved shootings and more. For seven years, he worked on the paper’s editorial board. Joel left The Post in December 2020. He and his wife, Donna, have lived together in Palm Beach Gardens since 1992.

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