By H. Simmons –
As the geographical center of the Coachella Valley, the City of Palm Desert has taken those coordinates to heart and created an axis for education, retail and entertainment enhanced with a sense of art and culture.
The year-round population of 48,500 residents is a community made up of retirees and families. Palm Desert does not elect a mayor but rotates a council member into the position yearly. “We are a diverse city with a strong cultural component,” said Mayor Jan Harnik. “Part of the personae of the community is the art. It reflects our quality of life. Art speaks to people of every age.”
In 1986 Palm Desert drafted a public art ordinance. For 27 years, Art in Public Places has incorporated art into the fabric of the community. Amazing sculpture, colorful mosaics and original art pieces can be found in the city’s parks, street medians, shopping centers, golf courses and housing developments.
There are 150 works of art in the collection. According to Deborah Schwartz, Art in Public Places’ Public Art Coordinator, there are approximately 55 works of art in the city’s permanent collection and an additional 18 sculptures on loan. Through the El Paseo Invitational Exhibition those on loan are changed every two years and new pieces of art fill the space creating a fresh new look.
The way the ordinance works, residential or commercial developments with a budget over $100,000 are charged an Art in Public Places’ fee, which is a fraction of a percent of the overall budget. City projects require one percent of the budget for artwork. Once the art is selected, approved, commissioned and placed in its location, the money is refunded and the piece is maintained by the owner. Seventy-seven pieces are on private property.
The Palm Desert Visitor’s Center offers free docent led tours of the citywide artwork or they can provide a map for a self-guided tour.
In addition to the city’s appreciation for art, there are nearly 20 art galleries in Palm Desert. Centered mostly on El Paseo, they offer a wide variety of quality art. The galleries host a monthly Art Walk the first Thursday of every month from October through May.
Last year Palm Desert opened a satellite museum of Palm Springs Art Museum — The Galen, located at Entrada Del Paseo. It is an 84,000 square foot building with four separate galleries and an education wing. Beautiful desert landscaping, water features and sculpture surround the museum.
Palm Desert’s appreciation for art and culture accents the way they do business.
“It’s a great day in Palm Desert” is what you hear when the Palm Desert Area Chamber of Commerce answers the phone. “We want to be inclusive rather than exclusive and that’s why the chamber’s called Palm Desert Area,” said Barbara DeBoom, President and CEO. “It’s a great day in Palm Desert because we have something here for everybody.”
With 1,100 plus members, the Chamber is currently the only valley city with a membership in United States Chamber of Commerce. The Palm Desert Area Chamber of Commerce has a top accreditation of five stars. The accreditation program requires a financial audit and defines rigorous standards for it members. The US Chamber criterion provides guidelines for management and effectiveness ultimately improving chamber success and performance.
Nationally recognized businesses are making Palm Desert home. A Mastro’s Steakhouse just opened on El Paseo. This year Wolfgang Puck will open a restaurant on El Paseo as well. Whole Foods and Nordstrom’s Rack are in the review process with the city and will occupy the former Best Buy and World Market space.
The city is working with two high-end hotels that have shown serious interest in building in Palm Desert. One site is a two and a half acre parcel on Larkspur adjacent to El Paseo and the other is a 17-acre site in the Desert Willows Golf Resort. Palm Desert has 35 golf courses and 15,220 hotel rooms.
Great entertainment in Palm Desert includes the Living Desert Zoo and Botanical Gardens, The McCallum Theater for the Performing Arts and Cinemas Palme D’Or. The City of Palm Desert celebrates an outdoor lifestyle with concerts in the park, a system of hiking trails, dog parks and new aquatic center to name a few. Twenty thousand people attend the annual Golf Cart parade. The first Friday of every month there is the new Cruise El Paseo. The event had 300 pristine classic cars that toured El Paseo.
Fashion Week is an event growing in size and popularity. The eighth annual will be held March 15 -23 and will showcase new collections of top designers.
Important state educational institutions College of the Desert, California State University, San Bernardino and University of California, Riverside are all located in Palm Desert. UCR recently received a medical school accreditation. New facilities will be built on the 20-acre site. CSUSB has 200 acres for future expansion.
The Palm Desert Library reopened last week after a $3.8 million renovation. The facility doubled their available computers and the system can now accommodate the technology needs of residents and students.
According to Martine Alvarez, Director of Economic Development, Palm Desert has maintained a balanced budget and has made and continues to make adjustments to maintain the quality of life. With redevelopment funds they built drainage systems, parks, bridges and improved infrastructure. The loss of redevelopment funds has created challenges for all CV cities. “It’s critical to find the right matches for our community. We continue to work hard to support our businesses and do everything we can with the resources we have,” said Alvarez.
This year the City of Palm Desert will turn 40. Incorporated in 1973, they will hold off on a big celebration until they turn 50. As the valley’s center, Palm Desert celebrates its growing education facilities, fine dining, shopping and the quality entertainment it provides to residents, visitors and neighbors.