Caribbean editor Gay Nagle Myers stayed within U.S. borders on
a recent trip to West Palm Beach, Fla., but did spot palm trees and
tropical drinks. Here is her report:
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Who doesn't remember hanging chads,
pregnant ballots and recounts?
Despite the area's very visible media presence last November in
the eye of the presidential election storm, humor is alive and well
in Palm Beach County.
T-shirts emblazoned with the ballot maze are offered in all the
souvenir stores, but there's far more happening here these days
than last fall's fiasco.
Palm Beach, of course, has its island aura, with seaside
castles, grand hotels and gold-plated neighborhoods.
However, the county also features West Palm Beach, located on
the mainland across the Intracoastal Waterway.
West Palm is no longer just a country cousin to its blue-blooded
neighbor. It's a happening place, filled in part with visitors
crossing the waterway from Palm Beach.
The catalyst for this excitement is CityPlace, a 55-acre, $500
million mixed-site development project situated in the heart of
what once was a decaying downtown area.
I'd heard about CityPlace, which opened last October.
To see it is quite another thing, as to visit it requires a plan
I took the free shuttle on a Saturday morning from Worth Avenue
in Palm Beach to the $3.5 million fountain that marks the epicenter
This is no ordinary fountain -- 186 jets and 200 lights illuminate
a three-minute automated water show, accompanied by Strauss
waltzes. This show is even more spectacular at night when the
lights can be seen.
Florida's drought and water restrictions affect even fountains,
so the show is now hourly instead of every 30 minutes.
Visitors who arrive at CityPlace can park free in nearby
Trolleys loop through CityPlace every five minutes, heading for
Clematis Street a few blocks away.
This ride is free and very popular. Ridership on the three
trolley shuttles spurted to 67,896 passengers in March, surpassing
the initial projection of 35,000 in the first year of
Italy's hill country architecture was the inspiration for the
overall design of CityPlace and is seen in its wall fountains,
grand staircases, upper galleries, earth-toned residences,
ivy-covered apartment balconies and open-air plazas.
CityPlace was built in 22 months from what had been a landscape
of weed-filled, vacant lots surrounded by broken chain-link fences,
shuttered storefronts, shuffling drifters and gaping potholes.
These streets are now paved, cobbled, free of litter and named
for flowers and herbs.
What I saw was a sensory delight -- lighting fixtures inspired by
the lanterns that illuminate Venice; pedestrian-only brick streets;
landscaping and fountains; town homes and artists' lofts with
Tuscan facades; dozens of restaurants and cafes, and retail stores
circling open-air plazas with tree-lined walkways and benches.
The centerpiece of the main square is the former First United
Methodist Church, dating from 1926.
The three-story building was restored for $6 million and
reopened as the Harriet Himmel Gilman Theater for the Performing
By noon on the day of my visit, the entire place was
Families jammed the fountain plaza for a free concert; vendors
sold fresh orange juice and double-scoop ice cream cones, and
visitors sipped coffee at outdoor cafes.
At FAO Schwarz, one of the development's high-profile anchor
tenants, adults streamed in the front door as fast as their kids,
who were drawn by the giant teddy bear stationed at the
I saw other retail brands I recognized -- such as Restoration
Hardware, capped by a weathervane sculpture; Pottery Barn, and
Barnes & Noble -- side by side with gourmet markets,
restaurants, European boutiques and name-brand apparel stores.
Then I saw the movie theater.
No, that's the wrong phrase. Muvico is actually a 20-theater
cinema complex, contained in a building whose architectural style
resembles elements of the Paris Opera House.
There's a supervised playroom for children so their parents can
see a movie; several restaurants and lounges, and five premier
theaters with reserved seats and bar and meal services.
All this along with miles of flocked drapes, marbled
balustrades, vaulted ceilings with pastel murals, a four-story
atrium and valet parking.
The concessions concourse offers popcorn shrimp, cheese popcorn,
quesadillas, curly fries, chicken breasts, salads and international
This is definitely not a Milk Dud kind of place -- just like
CityPlace is not a shopping mall.