Atlantic Avenue: Next big international tourist destination - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Atlantic Avenue: Next big international tourist destination

By Evan Axelbank - bio | email

DELRAY BEACH, FL (WFLX) - When it comes to hot spots, Delray Beach's Atlantic Avenue is the place to be.

Whether you want to take in the sun, have a cold drink or buy a new outfit,  the avenue is the place where you can do it in style.

It's so hot, it's receiving national attention.

Just ask Tobie Daniels. She'll  tell you that Atlantic Avenue is getting a reputation. "The sidewalks are pretty packed. There's three people walking alongside each other. The restaurants are all packed. You have to wait for a table."

But you don't have to imagine an Atlantic Avenue without crowds, hostesses, valet parkers, storefronts or bartenders. To see an Atlantic Avenue without people, just look at pictures from 20 years ago. "It was pretty desolate," said real estate developer Tim Hernandez.

And there was little hope. "I think a lot of people thought we were nuts."

But city officials saw potential. They harnessed the draw of the ocean, and in 1989 started with a few million dollars to spruce up the streets, with flower beds, wider sidewalks and places to park. "That encourages private investment to come in and develop their businesses," said Delray Beach City Manager David Harden.

Along with improving the streetscape, Delray beefed up the police patrols and started hosting special events to attract people downtown. Then, they piggybacked on the one successful element Delray had going for it: its art galleries.

"Everybody knows that people that buy art generally like good food and good wine," said Marjorie Ferrer, the director of the Downtown Development Authority.

So they drew fancy shmancy restaurants to get gallery-goers to stay for dinner. Then, using tax incentives, the Downtown Development Authority drew housing developers, like Tim Hernandez. A decade ago, he put up this development on West Atlantic, with a public and private financing package that allowed his company to pay less up front.

"That made it work. Otherwise, we may not at the time have been willing to take the risk," said Hernandez.

With a roster of special events, a selection of restaurants and places to live, downtown developers were almost done with the transformation. They needed stores, places for both locals and out-of-towners to spend their money and create jobs.

"We work with the retailers to stay open late at night. The art galleries generally do, and so there is this eat, have a great meal, walk around and shop, and have an ice cream cone," said Ferrer.

It's such a broad experience that the New York Times called Atlantic Avenue the next big international tourist destination. A couple, who just moved here from Florida's west coast, can see that.

"We just spent the whole day at the beach, went out to lunch. And then at night, we were walking around and it was music and everything," said Delray Beach resident Christina Banks. "Yeah, it was awesome."

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