By Denise Ortuno Neil

They are blatantly visible in some cities around the Coachella Valley. Large scale buildings that once held bustling businesses now sit idly empty, only relics of their former selves. What is the reason that some stay empty for so long, and will they ever come back to life? Is it bad luck, or just the luck of the draw that some succeed and some fall short? As the desert continues to grow, these are questions worth asking and it’s important to look into those empty buildings.

We get used to seeing them; they almost blend into the landscape of shopping centers and other businesses that surround them…except… they’re empty. Certain buildings actually do stand out, especially those which have been empty for quite some time. There is a sense of sadness about them, as if they have been left behind in the business world…their vacancy a testimony to their misfortune.

There are several barren buildings in La Quinta that have become untraditional landmarks, “Ya, just make a left at the street next to the old Simon Motors car lot,” is a way that one could give directions to Trader Joes. The vast car lot was built in 1978 and housed Simon Motors for most of its existence. But when the Chevrolet dealership moved down the street, it was curtains for the property. It has seen some action in the years since, like when it was home to Halloween Gear several years back. But things are looking up for the former dealership according to Brian Tracy who represents the property. Tracy explained how the owners have plans to turn the property into a retail shopping center, which will call for major rejuvenation and it may even be torn down to accommodate it’s reincarnation. Tracy is optimistic about the retail climate in the desert, “In the last 18 months there has been an up-turn in retail in the Coachella Valley and it’s getting back on track to where it was before the recession,” states Tracy. That’s great news for business and for the building he represents….I guess there will have to be a different way to guide people to Trader Joes.

Not far from the onetime dealership sits another languishing property which was home to Legacy furniture. In the quest to find out specifics of the buildings past, present and hopeful future, I ran into some brick walls…and I’m not talking about the ones holding the structure together. Apparently the agent representing the building found it in her client’s best interest not to share what she must deem as top secret information with me. But, as the wise old saying goes, “If there’s a will there’s a way” really does ring true. The City of La Quinta was much more generous with the public information about the building, and although their version of the properties history may have lacked the intimate details that I could have benefitted from getting it directly from the source, it did provide me with some enlightenment. The 30,000 sq ft building was actually constructed to become a movie theatre back in the early 2000’s. The reasons for it not coming to fruition were vague, but the building was sold in 2003 and became Legacy furniture. The store closed its doors many years back and has stayed vacant ever since.

But, the vision for a La Quinta based theatre complex has been resurrected by a different developer. Just down the street off Washington and 47th street, will be the brand new Century Washington Park theatre, which is owned by Cinemark Holdings Inc. The 12 auditorium theater will be part of the Washington Park Shopping Center. It will offer state of the art theatres, 6 of them with Real D 3D capability, a comfortable lobby serving wine, beer and frozen cocktails, a self-serve concession stand, plus many other amenities. The complex is scheduled to open in the spring of 2015. The city welcomes the new project with open arms, “We are very excited for this new opportunity,” said Community Development Director, Les Johnson. As for the Legacy building, its fate remains uncertain. Perhaps a new furniture store will move in, or someone with ample imagination will find a purpose that will fill its 30,000 sq ft.

In Indio, a Spanish style free standing building sits quietly on the corner of Young and Hwy 111, several broken boarded up windows shield the interior from public view. It was once the popular dining hot spot Devane’s owned by actor William Devane. The property was actually built back in 1981 and was utilized as a plant nursery. Its run as nursery lasted until it was turned into the former Knotts Landing star’s Italian food haven, Devane’s. As time passed, Devane’s moved from the Indio location and into Rancho Mirage, and then back to east valley in Old Town La Quinta in 2009 and then they closed all together. The Spanish restaurant La Estancia took over the lovely Indio property in the mid 2000’s and had a short run. There have been no occupants since 2009. According to Juan Rodriquez, Planning Technician for the City of Indio, there has been some interest in the building, as the owners may be moving towards remodeling the property….a new restaurant could be on the horizon is the word on the street. It will be a welcome site to see new life come to that beautiful property. Thank you Juan for all of your help in researching!

There are many more stories to be told about vacant buildings throughout the Coachella Valley. The how’s and why’s of their vacancy’s may never be explained as the mystery of their plight continues. However, I did find that the mood in the desert for businesses is improving, and that’s certainly a positive for our economic growth here in the desert and in our country. Hopefully one day the empty buildings will be filled again, and we will no longer be looking into them, but enjoying the businesses which they house.