Sales Begin on the Street, Not in Stores

Guest blog by Gehl's Maki Kawaguchi & Kate DeSantis

Retail is changing – this is not revelatory news. Particularly over the last few years, the business of retail has continued to shift from the transaction of money for goods, to a curated and multi-layered experience. As retailers become more sophisticated in offering unique customer experiences, it has many asking – where does this curated experience begin and end? Is it confined to a store? Does it begin as you approach a store on the street? Or has it begun with the targeted advertising you see on your social media accounts or Instagram feeds from your friends?

Gehl and Related Companies, a global real-estate firm, have been exploring this question at Rosemary Square, formerly known as CityPlace, a mixed-use development located in West Palm Beach, Florida. There, we’re creating an ecosystem of experiences that blurs the line between retail and public spaces, adding value to the customer journey while driving retail success.



Key to this exploration is the fact that successful places are an ecosystem – a complex network of things that interact with each other and the environment that surrounds them. In a flourishing ecosystem, the type and quality of the environment has a profound effect on its success. And this is where Gehl’s expertise lies; we create environments that integrate the parts into one seamless system. Critical to Gehl’s approach is that we begin by asking, what kind of life do we want to invite? With this vision in place, we then design a physical environment that will support it. For mixed-use developments, this means that the retail and public space strategies should work as two parts of one system, connecting people to people and people to place.

cityplace to a place in the city 

From CityPlace to a Place in the City

Related Companies developed CityPlace in 2000 with great success. It was one of the first outdoor lifestyle centers that integrated public space, retail, living and work. Since its opening nearly 20 years ago, West Palm Beach has strengthened its downtown and grown exponentially. A combination of dramatic change in the surrounding context and the retail industry, led Related to conclude that it was time for the destination to transform into an exciting live-work-experience neighborhood.

In 2016, Gehl performed a Public Space Public Life (PSPL) Survey, a data-driven tool that captures the performance of public spaces and how people inhabit these spaces through ethnographic observations, mapping and quantitative and qualitative data collection. We learned from the PSPL Survey that the plaza at CityPlace, beloved by West Palm Beach residents, is the second most visited public space in the city. We also learned that while the plaza, the heart of the development, was performing well, the rest of the system was not experiencing the same public life or retail success.

With this increased understanding of how the property was performing, Gehl created a clear vision and strategy that would take the development from an outdoor lifestyle mall – CityPlace – to a place in the city. Making CityPlace a place in the city means that locals and visitors alike should experience CityPlace as an authentic West Palm Beach district. The strategy focused on integrating retail curation, public space experience, and cultural programing in a way that feels both intentional and spontaneous. A place that offers events, shopping, and entertainment that is rooted in the local context. Additionally, the strategy stressed the importance of the parts of the ecosystem; working in unison not just at the Main Plaza, but across the entire development and even into the adjacent city neighborhoods.

Related brought together a multi-disciplinary group of consultants* to put this strategy into motion. Gehl worked on the overall strategy for the development and the redesign of CityPlace and the plaza while temporary activations began to build excitement for the longer-term change coming to the development. From turning an empty Macy’s into a pop-art icon and exhibit space (CultureLab), to pop-up stores that featured small-local purveyors, and curated events such as a weekly farmer’s market, projects big and small continue to bring interesting and unique changes, even during construction.

In Spring 2019, Related launched its rebranding of CityPlace as Rosemary Square to coincide with the completion of the first phase of the street redesign. The first several blocks of Rosemary Avenue are now a curbless street offering a comfortable stroll alongside lush native planting and a variety of shopping and dining experiences. As the transformation continues, it will not only be a retail and entertainment destination, but an everyday place where shared experiences around arts and culture, food, entertainment, living and working coexist. Rosemary Square will continue to be a place in the city where locals grab coffee on their morning commute and where the community gathers for celebrations – only now, they will be surrounded by new shade trees and flowers, public seating, and a range of unique local experiences. All solidifying the fact that it is a vibrant neighborhood in the heart of West Palm Beach.

Public Life as a decision-making tool

Great places are never finished. They require continuous refinement to keep up with changes in culture and to respond to the evolving surroundings. Moving forward, Related will monitor the performance of Rosemary Square by collecting public life data. With this data about how the system is performing, they can create a data-refined experience for the customer journey, from beginning to end. We are excited to continue our collaboration with Related as we watch the transformation unfold.


Originally posted September 13, 2019 and republished with permission by Gehl.


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