City of Boca Raton and South Florida government officials, business, tourism and community leaders gathered today for a special dedication ceremony and official unveiling of a permanent plaque and commemorative poster to celebrate the recent designation of Plaza Real at Mizner Park in Downtown Boca (www.downtownboca.org) by the American Planning Association (APA) as one of Ten Great Public Spaces In America 2010. The commemorative poster, generously printed by National Communications, was designed for display and promotion by area businesses, attractions and cultural entities, and tourism partners to showcase Plaza Real and its APA designation-winning iconic park, lifestyle and cultural attributes. A commemorative cake with Plaza Real poster image was created by the Boca Raton Resort & Club and served to guests as a brass ensemble from the Boca Raton Symphonia performed in celebration.
The early morning program was presented by City of Boca Raton Planning, Zoning, Development Director Julia Trevarthen, AICP, the who served as master of ceremonies, with remarks by Marie L. York, AICP, a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners and an APA Corporate Officer who represented the APA President and Board of Directors, Board of Commissioners of the Association’s professional institute, and the American Institute of Certified Planners at the ceremony; City of Boca Raton Mayor Susan Whelchel, and CRA Chair and City of Boca Raton Council member Constance Scott who unveiled the Plaza Real commemorative poster. Joining them in the unveiling of the plaque were City of Boca Raton Deputy Mayor Susan Haynie and Council Member Mike Mullaugh, Palm Beach County Commissioner Steve Abrams, and representatives from the public/private partnership stewards for Mizner Park such as General Growth Properties and Crocker & Company.
In her opening remarks Boca Raton Mayor Susan Whelchel noted that Mizner Park will celebrate its 20th birthday in 2011 sharing that “the Plaza Real and Mizner Park story is a remarkable one of the public and private sectors partnering to create and nurture a vital centerpiece of Downtown Boca Raton. Together with GGP, we celebrate not only this coveted APA designation, but also the many people who have worked for more than two decades to make this such a special place.”
Launched in 2007, the APA’s national program Great Places in America celebrates places of exemplary character, quality, and planning. Places are selected annually and represent the gold standard in terms of having a true sense of place, noteworthy social, cultural or historical character, community involvement, resilience, and a vision for the future. APA Great Places are enjoyable, safe and desirable -- places that attract users every day. America's truly great streets, neighborhoods and public spaces are defined by many characteristics, including architectural features, accessibility, functionality, and community involvement.
“Plaza Real is exceptional for many reasons, including big thinking, planning and following-through on those big plans; site design and aesthetics; public-private collaboration; and community engagement,” said York. “Plaza Real didn’t ‘just happen’ on its own. It came about as a result of public and private partnership and strong commitment to turn a shuttered shopping mall into an attractive commercial, residential and business district with a distinctive and unique public commons area.”
The planning for Mizner Park and Plaza Real dates to a 1988 comprehensive redevelopment plan that envisioned creating a place that would give residents a reason to go Downtown. Prepared by the Boca Raton Community Redevelopment Agency, the plan brought about a $56.6 million renovation of the former Boca Raton Mall, which had closed in the late 1980s. As noted by York, Mizner Park is considered by planners to be one of the first and most successful examples in the country of a former mall site being redeveloped for mixed-uses.
“This occurred because of the public-private partnership involving the City of Boca Raton, the Boca Raton Community Redevelopment Agency, the development firm of Crocker & Company, and the area’s cultural organizations,” she added. “Together, these stakeholders demonstrated creative thinking and visioning, perseverance, and cooperation. Nothing was held back in terms of Plaza Real’s design and quality of materials. The resulting aesthetics of Plaza Real and Mizner Park are alone worthy of praise.”
Plaza Real is defined by five fountains, two wrought-iron detailed gazebos, public art, benches and palm trees that line the outer edges. The Plaza’s layout and building placement were intentionally designed to create a “Venturi effect” that enhances natural breezes flowing through the area. Building façades are Mediterranean in architectural style and partnered with Mizner Park’s similarly stunning architecture and design, described by University of Washington architecture professor Anne Vernez Moudon as “a post-modern reincarnation of 19th-century Paris and Barcelona”. At the north end of the plaza is the Countess De Hoernle Amphitheater, and the Boca Raton Museum of Art and an additional building site for cultural development is currently used as green space. At the southwest end of the plaza features Mizner Park Cultural Arts Center that includes a black box theater and exhibition space.
“Welcoming and comfortable, the Plaza attracts users all hours of the day and night to mingle, relax, people-watch or play, and the space is easily accessed by car, bike or foot with four adjacent garages, numerous bike racks, and wide sidewalks and footpaths,” York added.
Chair of the Boca Raton Redevelopment Authority, Council Member Constance J. Scott concurred noting that “Mizner Park and Plaza Real are part of what make downtown Boca Raton a wonderful place to live, work and play. The APA recognition exemplifies that with creativity, persistence, and effective partnerships obsolete shopping malls can be transformed into vibrant places for everyone to enjoy.”
Since the APA’s Great Places in America program’s inception in 2007, APA has designated 110 Great Places located in 47 states and the District of Columbia. Besides recognizing Plaza Real as a 2010 Great Public Space, this year APA also designated Riverside Avondale in Jacksonville as a 2010 Great Neighborhood. Two other Great Places designations in Florida were Ocean Drive in Miami Beach as a 2007 Great Street and 7th Avenue in Ybor City as a 2008 Great Street.
In addition to Plaza Real in Boca Raton, the 2010 Great Public Spaces included Charles W. Ireland Sculpture Garden, Birmingham, AL; Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA; Fountain Square, Bowling Green, KY; The Emerald Necklace, Boston, MA; Campus Martius Park, Detroit, MI; Bryant Park, New York City, NY; Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, PA; Main Plaza, San Antonio, TX; and Percival Landing Boardwalk and Park, Olympia, WA. Information about these and other Great Places in America can be found on APA’s website at www.planning.org/greatplaces.
About the American Planning Association
The American Planning Association is an independent, not-for-profit educational organization that provides leadership in the development of vital communities. APA and its professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners, are dedicated to advancing the art, science and profession of good planning – physical, economic and social – so as to create communities that offer better choices for where and how people work and live. Members of APA help create communities of lasting value and encourage civic leaders, business interests and citizens to play a meaningful role in creating communities that enrich people’s lives. APA has offices in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, Ill. For more information, visit www.planning.org.