By Gayl Biondi
The desert resort communities of Southern California are a magnet for sun-seekers, snowbirds, and full-timers who want to enjoy all the amenities of the West Coast lifestyle without the urban congestion. Desert Hot Springs, with its perch nestled in the foothills above the Coachella Valley, is conveniently located near Interstate 10 and Highway 62 and just 55 miles from the heart of the bustling Inland Empire.
More and more of the 150,000-plus travelers zooming along I-10 every day are taking time to stop and enjoy the view from one of Desert Hot Springs' world-renowned spas and hotels or nearby hiking trails. But it's not just tourists discovering the city's appeal. Desert Hot Springs has been a valley leader in post-recession home value recovery and increased sales tax income generated from folks who've made their visit permanent.
Studies show there is a significant unmet demand for more than $200 million in retail sales annually within the city's sphere of influence. Says Mayor Adam Sanchez, "We have a population of 28,000, but a pool of 48,000 people within our five-mile-radius trade area. Our pro-business city council is actively pursuing collaborations and partnerships to bring new businesses into our community to make every dollar go further to benefit our citizens."
The city is on the move with several commercial developments already approved and in the works. Palm Springs Unified School District is in the process of choosing sites for new schools to serve the growing community. The Desert Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the U.S. Small Business Administration is operating a business incubator designed to help entrepreneurs "start, grow, or repair your business" with free counseling and access to financing and support services. A $20 million Community Health and Wellness Center continues to serve as a Boys & Girls Club with indoor gymnasium, cardio fitness center, community room, health clinic, and aquatics center.
The city is working with a balanced budget and a long-range property management plan approved by the California Department of Finance to transition former redevelopment projects in line with the community's goals. One of Desert Hot Springs' goals is to expand its already successful health and wellness initiative to include a downtown arts district. Eight large-scale sculptures have been donated by well-known artist Simi Dabah. The sculptures will add to the community beautification effort that already includes several murals, decorated utility boxes, and other neighborhood improvements.
City Manager Martin Magana says, "Art can contribute to a sense of wellness and well-being. Engagement with artistic activities, either as an observer or as an initiator, can enhance one's moods and emotions. The process can be an outlet for stress relief and a way to look inward at the same time."
To complement the aforementioned arts district, the Planning Commission and the Community and Cultural Affairs Commission recently endorsed a proposal to create mixed-use and live/work spaces for artisans and hobbyists.
"The idea," explains Mayor Sanchez, "is to streamline the permit process to allow property owners to add a second dwelling or modify their existing space to accommodate artists who need only a small place to practice their craft. We believe this will bring a critical mass of residents to our core area to support a vibrant street scene of cafes, shops, and galleries."
Desert Hot Springs is also experiencing a near-record growth spurt in residential development. Housing starts run the gamut from 1,200-square-foot bungalows in established enclaves to 3,000-square-foot luxury homes in gated communities with commanding views of the valley floor. Approved residential developments include units geared toward young professionals, working families, and active empty-nesters. If all are built as planned, 12,000 new homes will be added to the city over the next decade.
Meanwhile, tourism is booming. Desert Hot Springs has long been nicknamed "Spa City" for its wealth of natural hot mineral water. Visitors come from all over the world to bask in therapeutic mineral baths at myriad resorts and spas ranging from pet-friendly to Hollywood trendy. The city presently boasts 827 hotel rooms in 35 properties.
The venerable Two Bunch Palms spa resort (as seen in the Robert Altman film The Player) has made a long-term commitment to the community by helping to offset operating costs through fees incurred by property-wide renovation and future expansion plans. The resort partnered with Pear Energy to build a 3.5-acre solar field to generate the equivalent of 100 percent of the power it needs, making it the first zero-carbon-footprint resort of its kind in North America.
For outdoor enthusiasts, Desert Hot Springs is the perfect home base to visit Joshua Tree National Park. In fact, the city is surrounded by open space on three sides, providing endless opportunities for world-class hiking and recreation. Current plans call for a trail to connect hikers and mountain bikers from Joshua Tree National Park to Cabot's Pueblo — a unique museum in Desert Hot Springs that's listed on the U.S. Department of Interior's National Register of Historic Places. Ultimately, plans include a six-mile link to the Pacific Coast Trail, opening up the prospects for a Sand to Snow National Monument designation.
Exceptional real estate values, proximity to the unique desert ecosystem for outdoor recreation, and easy access to all points east and west make this a destination worth reaching. With its genuine hometown flavor, Desert Hot Springs is on the rise.
Adam Sanchez Sr.
Joe McKee, Scott Matas, Jan Pye