By Heidi Simmons –
Palm Springs has an estimated two million tourists annually. Throughout the year, visitors wax and wane with every weekend. Incorporated in 1938, the City of Palm Springs is a conscientious caretaker of the most famous city in the CV.
“We are aware of the importance of the Palm Springs brand. We have a two-fold approach — maintaining the high quality of the brand and sharing it with the valley,” explained City Manager David Ready. “It is a symbiotic relationship. Palm Springs benefits even when visitors go down valley.”
Ready has been City Manager for twelve years and sees Palm Springs’ success as a partnership between the city and its 50,000 residents — 70,000 in season. The recent passing of Measure J, a local revenue tax, gave the city the support and funds necessary for improvements and to move Palm Springs’ downtown redevelopment forward.
A major part of the city’s economic focus has been divided in three parts: The building of the Convention Center — which was remodeled to accommodate larger groups; the Hotel Incentive Plan — where the city partnered to improve and build hotels; and the development of the Downtown/Uptown shopping districts. With these three legs in place, the long awaited downtown revitalization project, the demolition and rebuilding, is finally coming to fruition.
The Chamber of Commerce will host Mayor Steve Pougnet’s State of the City address February 7 at the Hilton Hotel. Following the luncheon, the group will walk to downtown and watch the start of demolition marking the beginning of the second and most anticipated step.
The new development will consist of blocks that will include a new hotel, retail shops and restaurant space. There will be an open event space with a stage. Belardo Road will be connected as a thoroughfare and Andreas Road will meet Belardo. A new road will be created from Palm Canyon to Museum Way. The project should be substantially completed by the end of 2014.
“I am so excited about the plans for this 14 acre site,” said Pougnet about the development. “The town is humming. There is a great vibe. Palm Springs is thriving. It is a young and dynamic town.”
Palm Springs has the largest operating budget of all the CV cities. The biggest challenge for most cities has been the loss of redevelopment funds from the state. “The city prepared for it. We believed the state would stop funding redevelopment so we moved property out and with strategic planning we have done well,” assures Pougnet.
According to Nona Watson, Chamber of Commerce CEO, they have 850 members. “Business is supported by the city. There is a feeling of community and partnership,” said Watson. “The Chamber is a liaison between the city and business. If there is an issue, the city has an open door policy.”
A new hotel called Arrive will start construction in April. It will be a modular building with outdoor dining and entertainment space. It is expected to be hip and edgy and will expand the uptown design district boundary. The Kimpton Hotel brand will be apart of the new downtown development. New hotels bring more visitors and more businesses.
The hospitality industry is the largest group of businesses in Palm Springs. There are about 100 hotels in Palm Springs. Tim Ellis, President of the Palm Springs Hospitality Association says there are 7,000 hotel rooms in the city. “February, March and April hotel occupancy is at 95 percent. In July it is 74 percent,” declared Ellis. “We are seeing more visitors in the summer months. I believe one day we won’t refer to a ‘season’ anymore. We will fill our hotels year round.” This may be the trend.
Since “The Great Recession of 2008” overall hotel tax revenue is up $5 million and sales tax revenue $2 million. Measure J’s one percent revenue, is budgeted to bring in $8 million annually. These increases indicate on-going recovery for both the tourism industry and the local economy. Last year, hotel rooms booked through contracts with the convention center totaled 70,763. Already booked for the next few years are 122,000 rooms.
Palm Springs has a unique Native American tribal partnership that adds richness to the community. It is the only city in California with a Casino in its downtown district. The culture and history of the Aqua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians remains an important presence. Along with the wealth of culture and prominence they provide, they are generous contributors and supporter to the city.
Let’s not forget that the Palm Spring International Airport is operated and funded by the City of Palm Springs. It was voted one of America’s Most Stress-Free Airports by SmartTravel.com. According to Thomas Nolan, Executive Director of Palm Springs International Airport, in 2012 it had record airline activity of 1,727,122 using the airport. 180,000 arriving passengers rented vehicles. The airport served over 20 cities including five Canadian cities. Virgin America launched a direct flight from Palm Springs to New York. Over the last five years, the city has spent $50 million on facility improvements and projects. And there are plans to expand public parking, the terminal and the airfield in the near future.
Beyond its visitors, and the excitement of the long-awaited improvements to downtown, Palm Springs is looking to its future. Construction of the West Valley College of the Desert will begin this year. Plans include a 50,000 square foot building on 119 acres.
When the state cancelled new enterprise zones, Palm Springs joined with Desert Hot Springs and Cathedral City to create the Coachella Valley iHub. iHub provides programs, services and incentives to start-up businesses focused on creating and developing clean technology. Located in Palm Springs, it currently is at capacity with seven clients in the building and six virtual clients – working off campus.
Near the north end’s Chino Cone and Ship Rock landmarks, a total of 225 acres, were recently purchased by the city. This preserves open space and ensures that the natural beauty of the city’s entrance remains unspoiled.
Palm Springs is a dynamic destination for tourists and provides residents with a year round resort lifestyle. This year the city celebrates its 75th anniversary. It has found a way to balance quality of life — and brand. Palm Springs is firmly situated for a very exciting present and is truly engaged in the moment.