By Jane Smith
Delray Beach has a thriving downtown that is the envy of cities nationwide. With some changes, the city could create “a world-class shopping district” that is sustainable through recessions, said Robert Gibbs, an urban design consultant.
Hired by the city’s Downtown Development Authority, Gibbs gave city commissioners the draft results of what he called a “Shopability Analysis” on Feb. 20.
He focused on Atlantic Avenue between the interstate and the ocean. He talked about parking management, retail mix, sidewalks and crosswalks, store signs, parking signs and street furniture such as garbage cans and benches.
Mayor Cary Glickstein asked the overarching question: “How do we protect that which makes us valuable?”
First, Gibbs recommended the city study its parking capacity to determine the number of spaces in the downtown and whether it needs to add more, in terms of a public garage. Then the city should consider a pilot parking meter program for Atlantic Avenue west of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Gibbs likes individual meters because he thinks visitors find them easier to use. The city has purchased parking kiosks for use in the downtown between the waterway and Swinton Avenue.
As to parking fees, he recommended the first two or three hours be free. In the public garages, the lower floors should be reserved for visitors, not valet use, he said.
Parking tickets should be given on a sliding scale. “The first ticket should come with a thank-you card,” telling the visitor that no fine is levied but thanking the person for visiting Delray Beach, Gibbs said.
He also recommends installing unified signs for public parking lots and garages and private valet services to make it easier for visitors to find their way around the downtown.
Another goal suggested by Gibbs would be to enforce the sidewalk clearance of 6 feet west of the waterway. Gibbs said restaurateurs like to encroach on the space, forcing families pushing strollers into the street.
He also advised the city to trim landscaping that encroaches on the sidewalks. Repairing or replacing buckled brick pavers on the sidewalks would allow for a smooth walking surface for pedestrians, he said.
Gibbs said cleaning sidewalks, parking garages and city parking lots weekly would make visitors think downtown Delray Beach is world class.
Three years ago, former City Manager Don Cooper wowed the commission with a similar vision of creating Disney-like levels of cleanliness and safety in the downtown. In February, Commissioner Shelly Petrolia told Gibbs, “you are speaking our language … You know who we are.”
Gibbs wants the city to ban anything that cheapens the downtown and makes it look like a shopping center, such as dark-tinted windows.
Vice Mayor Jim Chard asked about a digital sign for Old School Square, which often has a few events taking place simultaneously in different buildings.
“That sign will downgrade you to a strip shopping center,” Gibbs said. “Plus, if you allow that organization to have an animated sign, you have to allow it for all.”
Gibbs will present a final version of his analysis March 29 at Old School Square.