Downtown West Palm's next big thing?

By Juan Carlos Fanjul - bio | email

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX)-- Angie Graver of Atlanta has been to much bigger museums in larger cities, but she's fascinated not only by the aquarium at the South Florida Science Museum, but the rare child mummy and travelling dinosaur collection.

"Everything is so alive, they have great brain teasers," she said.

Smaller she says is better.

"We walked in an hour ago and have been able to touch everything. It's not crowded and we didn't have to wait in line," she added.

The museum has been in the city's south end since 1970 receiving about 120,000 visitors annually. But now it's ready to grow.

"We've been on an expansion plan for some time and recently we had a meeting with the mayor who said 'how would you like to look at a downtown site?'," said Mary Sellers, CEO of the South Florida Science Museum.

Although preliminary, the museum could be built in land formerly occupied by the Helen Wilkes Hotel along Flagler Drive.

Behind it, a 15-story hotel tower would go up on the site of the old and vacant city hall.

At the first workshop meeting on downtown's next big thing Monday, consultants showed city leaders models of what the public/private development would look like, including the mid-rise building with it's top floors curving out like a wave.

Unlike the newly-opened waterfront park just south of this sight, the city wants an active program here.

"Because so much of the waterfront-- although beautiful-- has a lot of passive space but no permanent attractions," said Robert Bistry, an architect with Chicago-based Built Form which is consulting on the project.

The museum's CEO says she's gotten a lot of calls from community members who support a move to downtown, but the board of directors must first decide on whether or not to get serious about a move.

As for the hotel development, the city plans to put out a request for proposal soon.