January 19, 2016 | 9:34am
Aaron Wormus is the chief technology officer of HedgeCo Vest, a hedge-fund company located on Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach. Every day on his way to work, Wormus passes a section of the old Florida East Coast railroad tracks and an overgrown area around it.
Wormus, a father and husband, thought the community could use this land in so many ways. He imagined a linear park — like New York City’s High Line — with families going on walks, people exercising, and dogs playing on leashes. Wormus started speaking with other people, and they seemed just as frustrated that the sprawling half-mile track of prime downtown real estate was going to waste.
“It’s a long pathway and the perfect canvas for art, dance, music, a place to walk your dogs,” Wormus says. “But I’m just a regular person here in town; I don’t have the ability to make a park.”
But last year, Wormus began meeting with the West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority, which became supportive of his plan. To secure funding, city officials recommended he apply for a Knight Cities Challenge, a Knight Foundation grant awarded to applications focusing on “attracting and retaining talent, expanding economic opportunity, and creating a culture of robust civic engagement.”
He turned in the application for Quadrille Linear Park in October. Last week, the Knight Foundation announced it was one of four finalists for Palm Beach among 150 applications nationwide. There were more than 4,000 submissions.
“I was very surprised when I found out,” Wormus says. “It’s nice to see something go from nothing to something.”
Quadrille Linear Park, as imagined, would be 17 feet wide and a half-mile long, stretching from Okeechobee Road to Banyan Boulevard. The idea hinges on community involvement. Wormus proposed a Friends of Quadrille Linear Park group, in which members from the community that would organize events, funding, and upkeep.
Wormus believes the timing is just right, with construction beginning for a station for the new Miami-to-Orlando train service, Brightline (AKA All Aboard Florida). Wormus was pleased that All Abord Florida has taken an interest in his project. The tracks will run alongside the park. “It’ll be safe and all up to code,” Wormus says.
“As Floridians increasingly migrate toward the urban core, public spaces and green areas are key components to creating neighborhoods,” says Ali Soule, a spokesperson for Brightline. “We support efforts to enhance the quality of life for visitors and residents alike."
By January 31, Wormus must submit a final application and grant request. He hopes to talk to more people before then too.
“Cool art must be a part of the pathway,” Wormus says. “We want to put lights and chess tables and a place for dogs to drink water.”
Other Knight Foundation finalists in Palm Beach include ideas for transforming Lake Worth’s intersections with more art and light, a design for better pedestrian rights-of-way in West Palm Beach, and a new cultural hub around a former jazz club in northwest Palm Beach.
Winners will be announced this spring. The Knight Foundation will decide how to divide among winners the $5 million available in this cycle.
So far, Wormus does not have any mock-ups. But here are some photos of the area where he park will hopefully take shape.