By Rich Henrich
Along Highway 111, you may have noticed a patch of vacant land beside the former Desert IMAX theatre in Cathedral City or perhaps the one behind the theater complex. Once a visionary plan with promise, the progress on Cathedral City’s downtown development stymied a few years ago. In a complex web of financial challenges in Sacramento, the dissolution of the Redevelopment Agency and the downturn in the economy in general, Cathedral City’s master plan for an entertainment zone halted. However, this past March, the City Council and staffers held a goal setting session and now believe they have a plan to move forward with their original vision for an entertainment district.
City Manager Charlie McClendon says this is part of the long-term strategy for Cathedral City. “The plan is not just for tourism but for residents,” says McClendon. Initial concepts for the parks would convert the now vacant lots into usable public open space that would include community, welcome festivals and events and feature wellness and energy parks with multi-use trails and conservation exhibits. In addition to beautification, the parks will feature two amphitheaters with stages, space for outdoor art exhibits and shady groves of date palms, citrus trees and picnic areas. The City Manager says the concept will be “designed for flexibility and allow for art shows, car shows, food trucks and vendor booths.”
The plan for a “festival corridor” is an intelligent move for Cathedral City to not only create a unique infrastructure along the 111 for entertainment but also as a means to attract interest in new businesses in the surrounding vacant retail and commercial properties. This sensible plan appears to have leadership in agreement and excited about the potential opportunities to jump-start the downtown planning efforts. Without the extreme expenses normally associated with development, McClendon says, “we don’t have to wait for the entire budget to be raised in order to begin the project.” There will be multiple phases for this project that will ultimately see a small and medium-sized amphitheater with total capacity anticipated to be less than 2,000 people.
Mayor Kathy DeRosa has stated this is a plan they are very serious about and has even prompted discussion on using crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter to raise funds. It’s this type of entrepreneurial attitude that provides a little extra spark to the initiative and helps set the tone for moving development forward despite all the challenges and set-backs the city has faced. Both City Councilmembers Stan Henry and Greg Pettis are also supporting the plan and direction for downtown. Design consultant Jerry Ogburn with MSA Consulting, Inc. contributed the conceptual plan pro bono and gives some indication to the quality planning that’s to come as the firm has been involved in numerous commercial projects in the desert such as the Mary Pickford Theatre in Cathedral City and Old Town La Quinta.
However high the optimism for this project, City Manager McClendon cautions that the development schedule is not yet in place. “The immediate challenge is funding.” Early estimates put the price tag of the plan in the $3 million dollar range with staff requesting an initial $100,000 for development. While there currently isn’t any funding for the festival park plan, city leaders are confident that they will be able to procure sponsorships and grants and find creative approaches to raising the required funds to purchase land owned by the now defunct Redevelopment Agency. “This will take 1-2 years for a true design and budget,” McClendon states.
On Monday, July 21st, the City announced the hire of Christopher Parman, a twenty year veteran of marketing, communications and public relations, as the new Communication and Events Manager, further showing their commitment to develop Cathedral City as a “Festival Corridor.” As a Communication and Events Manager, Parman will be responsible or the City’s communications related to press releases, news and social media and community relations. In addition, Parman will plan and promote special events for the City and coordinate with groups planning events located in Cathedral City. “Chris’ successful career has included extensive experience in public relations and event planning,” McClendon said. “This combination of experience gives him the skills to facilitate the increasing number of events that now call Cathedral City home and in getting the message out to the community about the many good things Cathedral City has to offer its residents, visitors and businesses.”
Parman comes to the City from Copper Mountain College where he teaches Communication Studies. Previous, he spent nearly a decade with the California State Legislature where he oversaw the scheduling and preparation of the 18th Assembly District engagements. He also served as government liaison responsible for constituent relations. His experience in corporate marketing and promotions include work with several insurance companies in Northern California, Oklahoma and Texas as well as the hospitality and tourism industry throughout the United States.
“This is an exciting opportunity to promote all the attributes that make Cathedral City a wonderful place to live, shop, recreate and be entertained,” Parman said. “I look forward to working closely with the city council, the city manager and his professional staff team, as well as reaching out to the community stakeholders, media organizations and business leaders throughout the Coachella Valley.”
With the growing number of events springing up across the Coachella Valley, this is a great time for Cathedral City to position itself as a contender. Events can not only bring communities together and attract tourism both locally and regionally but can also be incredible engines for economic development. While events often require several years to grow, their impacts on a small city or neighborhood can be realized immediately as festivals and events attract attendees who tend to spend their money on food and beverages followed by lodging and retail purchases according to the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau. A festival park plan is sure to create demand for businesses poised to capture consumer spending. Kudos to Cathedral City!