Palm Beach Civic Association 81st season logo

Protecting the quality of life since 1944.

Our Town by William Kelly: Preservation Foundation breaks ground on Phipps Ocean Park makeover

Community leaders dipped ceremonial shovels into the parched, sandy soil of Phipps Ocean Park on Friday – a day of celebration and anticipation of the rebirth of this prime but long-neglected public space.

More than 100 people attended a groundbreaking ceremony hosted by the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach, which is spearheading the $33 million revitalization of the town-owned park.

Amanda Skier, president and CEO of the foundation, said the reimagining of the park began four years ago as a relatively modest undertaking. The foundation sought to strengthen public engagement with the 1886 Little Red Schoolhouse, a fixture of the park and home of the foundation’s living history program since 1990. That effort soon blossomed into the most ambitious endeavor in the organization’s 44-year history.

“The possibility of transforming the entire park began to take shape against the backdrop of Covid, which highlighted the need for enhanced public spaces,” Skier said. “In partnership with the Town of Palm Beach, the plan ultimately incorporated all of the park and a $30 million capital campaign.”

The preservation foundation hired Miami-based landscape architect Raymond Jungles to craft a master plan for the re-do.

The design, approved by the Town Council, calls for transforming the sunbaked park into a shady oasis of native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. The new ecosystem will be threaded with two miles of ADA-accessible walking paths leading to educational and recreational features that will include an outdoor classroom, schoolyard garden, dune playground, a horizon plateau overlooking the ocean vista, and more.

A new coastal restoration center will contain a nursery and propagation area for native plants to support healthy beach dune ecosystems in the park and throughout the island.

The Little Red Schoolhouse will be moved to a more visible spot near the base of a 22-foot beach dune and will anchor a “great lawn” and wildflower garden to the west.

The park’s two asphalt parking lots will be replaced with permeable parking lots, Skier said. The number of spaces will be reduced to around 200, instead of the current 230.

The permeable lots are consistent with a plan to regrade the entire park so it will retain all rainfall on site, she said.

Construction is scheduled to begin in June and be completed in 15 months.

The park is spread over 18 acres donated to the town by the Phipps family in 1948. It reaches from the Lake Worth Lagoon to the Atlantic Ocean, where there is 1,200 feet of undeveloped coastline.

But the park has, by many accounts, never lived up to its potential. Its use is mostly limited to beachgoers, tennis players, and fourth-grade visitors to the schoolhouse.

Skier said the revamped park will become a destination for families when it is reopened to the public in the fall of 2025.

“This long-underutilized space will be restored into an extraordinary public landscape that fully realizes the Phipps family’s vision for their 1948 gift – a beautiful public beach and oceanfront park that celebrates the unique scenic quality of Palm Beach,” she said.

A shared ‘dream’

Skier thanked the town’s elected officials, recently retired council president Margaret Zeidman, and town staff leaders – all of whom attended the ceremony –for “helping to turn the dream into reality.”

“Your unwavering dedication and support of our vision have been instrumental in bringing this project to fruition,” Skier said.

Mayor Danielle Moore called the project “the perfect example of what happens when we all work together to make something special even more special.”

Town Council President Bobbie Lindsay said the town is grateful to the preservation foundation for initiating and principally funding such an ambitious and much-needed project.

“What has been an underachieving stepchild of a park is about to be transformed into a restored, native coastal ecosystem with a vital coastal restoration education center,” Lindsay said.

Council member Lew Crampton said some neighbors are understandably concerned that the revitalized park will attract more visitors. But he said it will be a place where families will gather and children will interact, and it will be maintained and protected by town staff and police.

“It is going to be a destination,” he said. “But it is not going to be an attractive nuisance.”

Crampton said the restoration will eliminate “one of the worst eyesores in town” and replace it with a tremendous community asset.

“What we’re going to have here is an environmental education powerhouse,” he said.

Griffin donation

On April 16, the foundation announced that hedge-fund billionaire Ken Griffin will give $7 million for the park restoration.

The gift allows for the addition of new features, including the Kenneth C. Griffin Coastal Conservancy, which the foundation said will serve as a cornerstone for environmental and cultural education in the region.

Griffin is the founder and CEO of the hedge fund Citadel LLC and Citadel Securities. The Miami resident owns a 27-acre, ocean-to-lake property in Palm Beach.

Griffin was represented at Friday’s gathering by Cason Carter, head of public affairs at Citadel, who called the park makeover “truly iconic.”

“I think the educational component is really important to Ken and, I know, to all of you,” Carter said. “This can be a model for Florida and for the United States for ecological education.”

Griffin’s gift elevates the total of donations so far to nearly $29 million, according to Skier.
Griffin and the Town of Palm Beach, which gave $2 million, are among 11 “landmark donors” who have given $1 million or more for the restoration, according to the foundation.

That’s in addition to 20 “major donors” who gave between $250,000 and $1 million, and 65 “community donors” who gave between $5,000 and $250,000.

But the total fundraising goal was recently revised upward to around $33 million, instead of $30 million, so the foundation will be working to raise another $4 million during the year ahead, Skier said.

Skier expressed optimism that the fundraising goal will be achieved.

“Now, with the groundbreaking, there’s even more excitement about the project,” she said.
To receive Palm Beach TV, Our Town News, The Civic and more in your inbox sign up HERE.


Our Town sponsored by:

Cleveland Clinic Florida