CRA Begins Rehabilitation of West Palm Beach's Historic Sunset Lounge
A look at the current status of the Historic Sunset Lounge in West Palm Beach / Photo Danny Rodriguez, WPB Magazine

The West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency has begun the rehabilitation of the Sunset Lounge and adjacent park in the city’s Historic Northwest District. The renovation of this significant music and entertainment venue is the cornerstone of the West Palm Beach CRA’s work to revive the Northwest District of West Palm Beach and establish long-term viability and economic stability in the neighborhood. After several years of community input and engagement about the future of site, the agency is spearheading the $4.5 million renovation project that will highlight both the history and present-day needs of the community.

The general concept is to revive the musical roots of the site by creating a state-of-the-art performance and art-focused venue that pays homage to its humble and notable beginning. In the 1940s and 1950s, the Sunset Lounge was one of the premier African-American entertainment venues in south during the Jim Crow law period that enforced racial segregation. The famous jazz venue drew hundreds of patrons to watch the notable artists of the time including Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Louis Armstrong. The redevelopment of this celebrated site will pay homage to the rich jazz and black history of the area and celebrate its significant legacy and impact, ultimately transforming the Sunset Lounge into the epicenter for a new African-American cultural tourism destination.

“The Sunset Lounge is an important part of the city’s history,” said West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio. “This renovation will not only help to revitalize our Northwest District, it will also create a destination that will provide residents and visitors a perspective on the African-American people and stories that helped to make West Palm Beach such a wonderfully diverse place.”

REG Architects, Inc., a West Palm Beach-based firm which specializes in architecture, historic preservation, interior design and community planning, was selected to complete the historic rehabilitation.

CRA Begins Rehabilitation of West Palm Beach's Historic Sunset Lounge
Renderings of design plans for the Historic Sunset Lounge in West Palm Beach.

The design plans include the following:

· A complete rehabilitation of the existing 13,500 sq. ft. building.
· The first floor will have a renovated bar and a new full-service restaurant.
· The redesign will convert the second floor of the structure back to a ballroom with a large elevated/floating stage and third floor mezzanine.
· The addition of a new, three-story 7,200 sq. ft. building on the east side of the Sunset Lounge.
· The new building will house the restaurant kitchen, bathrooms, dressing rooms for performers, lobby, office space, box office, and a broadcast facility.
· The plan adds a new parking lot in the rear, valet in the front of the building along with a gathering plaza, and an outdoor bar and patio for patrons to enjoy.

CRA Begins Rehabilitation of West Palm Beach's Historic Sunset Lounge
Renderings of design plans for the Historic Sunset Lounge in West Palm Beach.

In addition to creating an exceptional venue and destination, the WPB CRA will restore and modernize the adjacent park on the south side of the Sunset Lounge into a community gathering place. Design2Form will design the park that will be renamed based on input from the neighborhood. The firm engaged with the community in several design charrettes to create a park design with full collaboration of residents, businesses and additional stakeholders. The theme of the park will integrate history, music and art, while providing an engaging and relaxing space for users of all ages. The park will combine typical features of a neighborhood park with open space and an urban plaza that can facilitate special events such as farmer’s markets, festivals and concerts. Key park amenities will include a heritage trail, water feature, stage, seating, butterfly garden, musical-themed playground, grass mounds, entry features and interactive musical instruments.

“The renovation project for the Sunset Lounge and adjacent park has been an important community building process for the City of West Palm Beach,” said Jon Ward, Executive Director of the WPB CRA. “The continued participation from community members was an important component in order to facilitate a project that would provide a voice to residents and businesses in the area, and have a long-standing impact on the neighborhood.”

CRA Begins Rehabilitation of West Palm Beach's Historic Sunset Lounge
The Road Tattoo Genii Loci art installation that stretched from CityPlace to the Historic Sunset Lounge. Artists Steed Taylor painted this piece in West Palm Beach and runs over a mile along the heart of Rosemary Avenue. / Photo Danny Rodriguez, WPB Magazine

The Sunset Lounge is located at 609 8th Street in West Palm Beach, just a few blocks northwest of the downtown area. To make way for the new Sunset Lounge, the WPB CRA also bought and demolished existing adjacent buildings at 607 8th Street, 604 9th Street and 915 N. Rosemary Avenue. The Historic Northwest District is one of the city’s oldest and historically black neighborhoods located just north of downtown West Palm Beach. The district is delineated from Banyan Blvd. to Palm Beach Lakes Blvd. between Tamarind Ave. and Rosemary Ave.

The West Palm Beach CRA selected Cooper Construction Management for the rehabilitation project, along with Hedrick Brothers Construction to provide historic restoration consulting.

The project is expected to be completed by summer 2019.