Ah, South Florida: Where the women are strong, the men are pretty, and all the foreclosures are "friendly." Developers of mixed-use, work-live-playgrounds might take a moment to contemplate, as they plan their latest forays into the market for pseudo cities, the fate of the unsellable CityPlace South Tower in West Palm Beach, recently described by a parking valet to New Times as perhaps the most boring place on Earth -- where the Related Group has managed to get rid of a mere 39 units. Or the foreclosure proceedings against the Las Olas Riverfront Mall. The warning trumpets should be blaring for the developers of the planned billion-dollar mixed-use community 321 North in Plantation and its shiny multibillion-dollar girl-next-door neighbor, City of Oz in Sunrise.
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You've really got to hand it to developers: They're such optimists. The site for 321 North (see their website here) is the failed Plantation Fashion Mall, which limped along, losing one retail customer after the next, until Hurricane Wilma in 2005 finally dealt it the death blow. Part of the reason for the original failure was the mall's proximity to both the Broward Mall and the Galleria on East Sunrise. It turns out that there really is only a finite number of shoppers (and condo dwellers, and latte drinkers -- as Starbucks has discovered). You put too many Gaps or Banana Republics or Macy's too close together, and well, you end up with something like what artist Cristy Joy documented in her famous short film "Abandoned Mall in Plantation, Florida," an urban dystopia strikingly similar to the old Fashion Mall (don't miss the creepily on-target grafitti: "Your things will start to own you, free yourself!"). The planned 321 North comes to us courtesy of a Chinese Investment Group, U.S. Capital Holdings: 35 acres, reconstruction of the 650,000-square-foot mall; 613,000 square feet of office space; 590 new residential units. The company mission? "To identify and reposition underperforming or distressed properties in advantageous locations." Distressed: You betcha. Advantageous: Well, one out of two ain't bad.
And just 7.3 miles away in Sunrise: City of Oz, the $2 billion redevelopment brainchild of Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, to be built around the BankAtlantic Center and planned as "one of the world's great retail destinations" along with housing, a theater district and... scones for everybody.
Those who watched the siting of CityPlace just blocks away from the West Palm Beach retail district Clematis Street, which have been killing each other softly for more than a decade, may be having deja vu all over again. Below, Joy's poetic take on what happens when customers forsake the malls we build for them. They're just yesterday's "mixed use communities."