Grocery-anchored centers have become a staple of everyday commerce, but they rarely ignite excitement within the communities that surround them. Consumers who live nearby often consider these centers to be eyesores. After all, their design rarely strays from the bare basics, doing little to detract from the drudgery of weekly visits to the market or beautify the neighborhood.

Not at 98 Palms. The 86,000-sq.-ft. first phase of this center in the seaside town of Destin, Fla., reflects the surrounding surf, sand and sunshine. Located minutes away from several posh resort communities, 98 Palms rests in a trade area that heats up during the summer months with the inflow of beach-bound tourists, but maintains a steady stream of visitors and locals year-round.

The center's name provided a clear-cut direction for Birmingham, Ala.-based architecture firm Crawford McWilliams Hatcher when beginning its design work on 98 Palms. Palm-inspired accents, cast stone, synthetic stucco, colonnaded walkways and lush landscaping give this center an undeniably tropical atmosphere.

“Not only was the nearby beach an influence, we also took cues from the area's upscale architecture,” says Thomas Goodman, vice president of design at Crawford McWilliams Hatcher. The developer, Prattville, Ala.- and Nashville, Tenn.-based Newton Oldacre McDonald LLC, undertook an unusual amount of exertion to create a place that fit in with its surroundings. “From a design perspective, we were excited that this wasn't going to be another concrete-block center.”

And 98 Palms is anything but. “Destin is working toward a defined look and feel. It doesn't want to look like just another Florida town,” says Tom Newton of Newton Oldacre McDonald. “While developing 98 Palms, we knew we needed it to be something special.”

Newton says the company carefully crafted the center's tenant lineup. “We wanted to include the bread-and-butter tenants, but we also wanted to include some local flavor. Visitors enjoy shopping in boutiques that offer distinctive merchandise unique to Destin.” Winn-Dixie, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based grocery chain, serves as anchor, and a colonnaded outparcel building houses specialty shops. Tenants include an upscale winery, a trendy surf shop, apparel merchants, gift boutiques and more.

Fine details transform the center from a mere commercial outlet to a showcase: pastels and bright accents invigorate stucco finishes and Fypon balls anchor corniced corners. In addition copper lanterns, aluminum shutters, stainless steel awnings and an18-ft.spire contribute a novel touch. The palm tree, of course, plays a special role — appearing in custom-designed light fixtures, intricate friezes, and ceramic accents on the columns.

Plans are already being hatched for Phase II. “Starting this September, we'll begin developing an adjacent area called District at 98 Palms,” Newton says. “It will be a specialty office and retail component that is inspired by Pensacola, Fla.'s Seville District and New Orleans' Garden District, but distinctly Destin.”

According to Goodman, business has been great since the center's grand opening last summer, and the project has piqued interest in the local development community. “We've had several longtime collaborators come in and ask ‘Have you seen 98 Palms?’”