West Palm Beach's Warehouse District Grows With Retail, Restaurants and Recreational Fun
Across the tracks, in a not-so-picturesque pocket of West Palm Beach, where cars are repaired, electrical supplies are sold and U-Hauls are rented, something hip is happening.
A local development company invested in 85,000 square feet of run-down real estate a short distance southwest of downtown with an ambitious agenda: to reimagine the industrial innards as a hot spot for shopping, drinking and eating.
Behold the Warehouse District, a six-building block of businesses bordered by Blanche and Caroline streets and Clare and Elizabeth avenues near Old Okeechobee Road. The past-its-prime property that dates back to 1925 is abuzz with boutiques, beer and booze, as well as fun food finds.
The builder is betting on the allure of the asphalt, the beckoning of the barbed wire and the calling of the concrete-block walls to draw crowds.
“I think it’s a neighborhood that a lot of people will come to,” says Will Earl, a representative of Johnstone Capital Partners.
The Elizabeth Avenue Station features 19 vendors selling art, clothing, furniture, jewelry, plants, pottery and other homegrown goods. The city’s first taproom, Steam Horse Brewing, has opened, and the Black Coral Rum distillery is not far behind. The Grandview Public Market comprises 12,000 square feet of culinary culture, including The Corner, a Detroit-style pizza joint serving Motown’s signature square slices—hence the name—and Grace’s Sausages & Fine Foods, run by a former vegetarian who strictly sources meat from farms that ethically raise animals. Clare’s Chicken offers southern-fried, French-flavored and Thai-spiced versions of the bird, while Celis Produce peddles sustainable fruits and vegetables. Rabbit Coffee Roasting Company pours the perfect pick-me-up.
“This will be an anchor,” Earl says of the indoor/outdoor space. A lapsed loading dock with steel risers and yellow bollards add to the authentic ambience. “This will give all of them, if not most of them, a brick-and-mortar location as an alternative to food trucks.”
The Warehouse District also has a recreational element to it with the opening of Studios Etc., a health and fitness hub bringing barre and spin classes to the public, and the Palm Beach Squash Club.
“There’s no squash club in town, so we sort of figured if we opened one, people would come,” Earl says.
Another component of the project is the District Workspace, a slick suite of offices—14 in all—plus a pair of conference rooms, a common area, a library and a kitchen.
“Snacks, supplies, you name it, we are turn-key,” Earl says.
The District Workspace used to be a 5,000-square-foot fabrication facility, its numbered production lanes on the scratch floor still visible, as are its Dade County pine ceilings.
“We’re trying to maintain the character of the buildings but are adding a modern vibe to them,” Earl says, noting that the occupants range from designers to insurance brokers to entrepreneurs.
“We started to figure out that there was this undercurrent of people in town doing really creative things. We thought, ‘Bring them into one neighborhood,’ and it sort of took off from there.” - Will Earl
Almost every aspect of the Warehouse District has unfolded organically since Johnstone Capital Partners purchased the parcels a couple years ago. The company had sold a building on South Dixie Highway and wanted to reinvest the capital.
“I don’t think that we set out to buy 85,000 square feet of dilapidated warehouses somewhere,” Earl says.
As the executive in charge of overseeing financing, leasing and landlord duties, he realized the project’s potential.
“We started to figure out that there was this undercurrent of people in town doing really creative things,” Earl says, referring to artists like Jefferson Blakeslee of Palm Beach Native, a supplier of iconic images from the island, or Ricky Perez of Zipitios, a trend-setting taco caterer. “We thought, ‘Bring them into one neighborhood,’ and it sort of took off from there.”
The way customers consume, whether that consumption is getting a new dress, ordering a craft cocktail or spending on an exercise session, has evolved, Earl says.
“The key to this is what I would call experiential retail,” he says. “Our premise is that retail is not dead or dying, it’s evolving.”
Social settings such as holiday craft shows, with homemade cookies and hot chocolate, or pop-up malls, with women’s couture and fine wine, have broader appeal than traditional department-store shopping, Earl says.
“The main takeaway for me is this is an artistic neighborhood where we control the synergy,” he says. “I think that’s one of the things we have going for us. Because we are unified, we can focus on the customer.”
The Railway exemplifies the all-for-one, one-for-all attitude among the businesses. The 700-foot-long former rail line that bisects the property carried freight to and from the warehouses. The rail line was discontinued more than 40 years ago and, over time, was buried by dirt and weeds. Landscape architects have transformed the stretch of sleepers into a pedestrian path and gathering space.
“This has been a very forgotten part of history for a very long time,” Earl says. “I am happy we are able to resurrect it.”
Fran Andrewlevich, co-owner of Steam Horse Brewing, patterned the pub after The Railway.
“It’s definitely train-inspired,” Andrewlevich says. “Just imagine Grand Central Station at the turn of the century, with iron arches and big clocks.”
The 6,300-square-foot taproom and its pilsners, sours and double and triple IPAs join sister companies Tequesta Brewing Co. and Twisted Trunk, both of which have faithful followers of froth.
“Down there, the population alone—the density—is crazy, and the amount of people who go out is crazy, so I think we’re going to do better than we’re doing at our other two places,” Andrewlevich says. “When you walk into these buildings, they’ve got soul. That feeling is going to translate into our brewery fabulously.”
When he learned about the opportunity at the Warehouse District, he knew he wanted to be a part of it.
“It’s completely different from anything that West Palm has got,” Andrewlevich says. “All the people involved have an unbelievable amount of energy. Everybody wants to be there, and everybody wants to help each other out.”
The Elizabeth Avenue Station has no shortage of artists who want to display their work at the venerable venue, where nearly 2,000 attended launch parties to kick off the 2017 season.
“Everybody’s reaching out, and everybody’s so amazing,” says the Station’s owner Danni Mitchell. “It’s bringing opportunities to the creatives, and, in general, people respond to that.”
Mitchell selected each of the vendors, keeping an eye out for the unconventional and the unique.
“We went into this with the idea of, ‘How can we make this interesting for the consumer?’” she says. “There’s Amazon and the internet, and there’s Pinterest and Instagram. We’re seeing a lot of things online that inspire us. This is a place for them to come together.”
The event-driven entity brings educational workshops, live music, yoga in an adjacent urban garden and other sensory scenarios to shoppers.
“We like to shake it up,” Mitchell says.
Millennials, families, couples and the affluent have made their way to the Elizabeth Avenue Station to browse, buy and bend their backs into yoga poses.
“Everybody’s reaching out, and everybody’s so amazing. It’s bringing opportunities to the creatives, and, in general, people respond to that.” - Danni Mitchell
“We have a lot of ideas coming,” Mitchell says. “It’s just happening naturally. We’re having a wonderful time with the experience.”
Terry Kane, operations director of the Grandview Public Market, moved from Chicago to take the job at the food hall.
“I just got really excited about the concept, the project and trying something new,” says Kane, who visited 12 food halls in New York this summer to find fresh ideas for his.
The goal is to have vendors working in conjunction with—and not competing against—one another.
“I want to help them together as a group to draw people to this neighborhood,” Kane says. “Hospitality should never change. Hospitality should always be at the highest level possible, and that’s what I’m looking forward to bringing to the Grandview Public Market.”