One of the things that I consistently hear as I’m walking down Clematis Street are concerns about the state of retail shopping on the street. Clematis Street peaked as a retail main street in the years prior to Cityplace, and many people look back at those days and wonder how we create a balance between the vibrant nightlife that we have and bring back some of the much-loved retail elements.

If you want to know what the City of West Palm Beach is doing about this, read on.

There is no doubt that with the emergence first of sprawling suburban malls and then in the last decade Amazon Prime, the face of shopping has changed forever. However the City is dedicated to creating a “Live, Work, Play” environment in our downtown, and bringing back a “Shop” aspect to that is something that the City is dedicated to make happen.

Looking to provide an avenue for retail stores to use Clematis Street to get started, West Palm Beach Economic Development Director Chris Roog and Sherryl Muriente had an idea and proceeded to win a grant from the Knight Foundation to start its implementation.

The idea is to fund 12 businesses for 12 months and to activate the vacant retail storefronts in the downtown area. The proposal was named “12 x 12 Popup to Rent“. The Knight Foundation saw the value and the economic development impact that this would have on the area and gave the City team a grant of $180,200.00.

“We were responding to vacant retail, and the concern about what is happening to downtown from a business aspect,” West Palm Beach Economic Development Director, Chris Roog said. “If we could cluster small businesses and popups to rent we can make a destination and be successful.”

Enter 314 Clematis Street

314 Clematis Street was the home to the trendy home decor store Z Gallerie before being converted in 2010 to the Off the Hookah nightclub.

Converting Z Gallarie into Off the Hookah

Off the Hookah went through many phases over the six years of its tenure on Clematis Street. It was known for its epic annual anniversary parties which often included lavish decor and live camels.

In June of 2016 the ownership of a key piece of Clematis Street changed. As reported by The Real Deal, Key Biscayne-based Ana Maria Caballero purchased the property that was anchored by the “Off the Hookah” nightclub in June of 2016 for $6.75 million. This purchase came just four years after the property was purchased for 3.2 million.

The first thing that Ana Caballero did was to call a meeting with the DDA, the Mayor and Jon Ward from the CRA to understand what is happening on Clematis Street.

“These are the kinds of landowners that we want. They care and are interested in new ideas, they don’t necessarily believe in business as usual and they want to see the street improved,” said Chris Roog.

The new owners of 314 Clematis Street chose not to renew the lease that they had with Off the Hookah, the nightclub which had been a tenant in the space for the previous six years. The 314 space was now empty and looking for a new use.

Bringing Retail to Clematis Street

Retail trends are moving towards cool, fun and funky retail areas. One of the best examples of this locally is the new work that is going into the brand new Elizabeth Ave. Station in the Warehouse District. The idea is to create a cool, fun and funky retail destination and then making sure that it is clean and safe for shoppers.

Trendy shopping at Elizabeth Ave. in the Warehouse District

314 Clematis fits into the 12×12 plan. The space has 14,000 sqft and will be subdivided into smaller retail bays for small business opportunities. The City has contracted with an architect to remodel the space and will be picking retail businesses through a contest.

Each of the new retail business will get a 2 year lease which they will negotiate with the landowners. The city will offer an incentive to start the business out with a no to low rent and then work the business up to market rent. The goal will be to help them grow and move them into one of the other empty retail spaces on Clematis Street.

“It won’t be pizza, vape, or coffee shops.” Chris Roog ensured, “We want to add a different type component and retailer to the street … What we have is a great chance to improve Clematis Street and react to what’s happening in retail and civic life.  And a lot of things that we need to respond to in order to keep our city great and continue to grow.”

One of the interesting pieces is that the City has been working to Activate the Alleyways which was started several years ago, and brought into the fore as part of the Shore to Core project. This project will open the back of the building into the alleyway and will create a natural connection between Via Jardin on the 300 block.

The city wants to create an environment for these business with events, marketing, advertising, and mentorship that will ensure that success is the most likely outcome for these businesses.

Commissioner Neering commented on the project: “This is top-notch. This is innovated and different. We have tried it [retail] for the same way for so long and  I think we have a real opportunity here, and to hear that it can be nationally replicated it goes well. I want to thank everyone that has been involved. This is the type of initiative and change that we should be supporting and I’m really excited about this.”