"Indio is a city that is re-emerging. It’s young, it’s hip, and it has the strength of family relationships,” says Mayor Michael Wilson, a 17-year council veteran and a 35-year resident of Indio. “I have always called Indio the city with the most corazón (heart). What we’re seeing today is Indio’s emergence as a leader and toward becoming the hub of the valley once again.”
You can’t talk about growth in the desert today without Indio being in that conversation. There is so much going on in every facet of the city — from new homes in north and south Indio, the recently opened College of the Desert Indio Campus, new retail development, new restaurants, revitalization of the downtown area, an active performing arts center, and impressive public art program to the development of an 80-acre mixed-use complex at Jefferson and Indio Boulevard and the new County of Riverside Law Office Building and East County Detention Center on Highway 111. The East County Emergency Operations Center opened this past May.
“The county’s investment is creating 450 permanent new jobs in Indio,” says City Manager Dan Martinez. “People are attracted to jobs and these are high-paying jobs. A good percentage of them will also become Indio residents.”
The oldest and largest city in the Coachella Valley, Indio is currently the fifth-fastest-growing community in California and now has a population of just over 82,000. With a slightly younger than state average age, Indio was ranked 17th among the top 20 Best Cities for Young Families in California in 2014 by nerdwallet.com. This leading financial website also ranked Indio the 19th Best Small City for Women in the Workforce. Indio was the only valley city to be listed among both distinctions.
In the first half of 2014, nearly as many building permits were issued in Indio as the combined permits from all the other valley cities. The number of Indio building permits increased by 215 percent in 2012-2013 over 2011-2012 and is expected to also more than double in 2013-2014. Transient occupancy tax also is up and a ballot measure this November proposes a uniform increase from 10 percent to 13 percent and would also amend the definition of hotels to include campgrounds. Sales tax is up and property tax values are back on the rise.
To help refine its retail efforts, the city hired renowned retail consulting firm Global Retail Strategies. The firm conducted multiple surveys in May 2013 of Indio’s residents, including specific segments such as teens and seniors along with influencers such as business owners and real estate brokers to learn their perceptions of and desires for their city.
Indio residents see the progress that has been made over the past several years to improve their city. The results of the 2013 community survey show that residents are highly satisfied — 66 percent see Indio headed in the right direction. This represents an almost 20-point increase over perspectives in 2010.
On the retail front, residents indicated they wanted a big box retailer. Filling that bill is a Wal-Mart Supercenter, which is slated to open in time for holiday shopping this year at Monroe Street and Avenue 42. Also on the wish list was a nationally recognized sit-down restaurant. Applebee’s is expected to open by the end of this year — conveniently located across from the courthouse. Additionally, those surveyed requested a restaurant that serves breakfast. Just opened this past August, IHOP at Jackson and I-10 now serves breakfast all day long.
The majority of respondents also rated their local government and city council as excellent or good — 55 percent, compared to a 38 percent from a 2010 survey.
Developers also are pleased with the expediency of getting projects approved in Indio. Wilson says the city’s reputation is almost that of an ‘everyday fast track.’ “To the development community, time is money and we are committed to helping move projects along.”
A great example of the city’s supportive, pro-business attitude is Shea Homes’ Trilogy at The Polo Club, which opened in February 2014.
“We were able to do about 18 to 24 months of work in nine to 10 months at Trilogy at The Polo Club,” says Ryan Smith, general manager, Shea Homes. “I credit this both to a hardworking Shea team and the city of Indio for helping to find creative solutions to expedite the process and approvals in getting a project that started and stopped, repositioned, and opened.”
There were significant changes involved. “We amended two maps and a whole list of other things and were able to open for sales in less than a year,” Smith says. “Late winter through May is a crucial time for home sales in the desert,” he says. “For the city to find win-win solutions so we could open during this time was no small feat.”
In its first two months after opening, Trilogy at The Polo Club welcomed more visitors to its model homes than Shea’s previous Trilogy in the Desert had in its best full year. “There is pent-up demand and sales are starting to catch up,” says Smith, who noted the community had more than 60 sales in its first six months.
Internationally, Indio’s reputation is traveling at the sound of music. Besides the throngs of festivalgoers who attend the sold-out Coachella Fest and Stagecoach events, televised coverage on AXS TV has brought even greater exposure to Indio. Wilson comments, “It’s funny, when I travel and people ask where I’m from, I used to say, ‘25 miles east of Palm Springs.’ Now I say, ‘Do you know that big music festival? That’s in Indio.’”
“I can’t say enough about Goldenvoice and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival’s impact on Indio,” Wilson says. “Indio is becoming looked at as a hip place because of the outflow of the concert.”
According to the latest confirmed numbers from festival promoter Goldenvoice, the economic impact from Coachella Fest is more than $90 million to Indio alone and more than $254 million to the rest of the valley.
The first new hotel to open in Indio in 25 years, Holiday Inn Express, welcomed its first guests in March 2014. “That’s a direct impact from our 17-year agreement with Goldenvoice,” says Wilson. According to Mariano Aguirre, Indio’s director of economic development, multiple negotiations are currently in discussion for other top brand-name hotels.
Indio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Joshua Bonner, who also directs the city’s visitors bureau, says, “It’s only a matter of time before the resorts come. You start adding up all these numbers and developers will follow. That’s just the way enterprise works.”
One developer, the Chandi Group U.S.A., is planning a 120-room hotel at its $200 million Northgate Crossing — an 80-acre mixed-use walkable community development utilizing “smart growth” concepts. Nachhattar Chandi says he envisions the commercial tenant mix to include small and medium retail shops, a grocery store, casual dining and quickservice restaurants, a daycare center, a fitness/health center, a surgical center with medical offices, and a nationally recognized full-service hotel with a conference center. The development also will feature a mix of styles of multi- and single-family housing with interconnected landscaped walkway promenades to instill a sense of community and enjoyment for local residents, visitors, workers, and shoppers. Phase I included an ARCO AM/ PM and Express Carwash, which opened last fall.
Orthopedic surgeon Raj Sinha, M.D., Ph.D., is spearheading the development of an orthopedic specialty hospital at Northgate Crossing, which will be complemented by other medical offices. This facility will be the first hospital in the country exclusively devoted to joint replacement and will be a flagship for other Joint Replacement Hospitals of America locations around the country that Dr. Sinha and his investors are planning. The hospital is pending final California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development approval. Construction could begin as early as 2015.
Even beyond the city’s seven major festivals, the entertainment and cultural scene continues to blossom. Debuting this year was Discover Indio, a block party presented by the city, chamber, and visitors bureau to showcase music, fashion, art, and classic cars, and to honor the city’s history. This free event was well received and is now slated to be an annual event, with the next block party scheduled in spring 2015. Discussions also are currently underway for a multiplex theater.
Indio’s success has not come by chance. The current leadership has made it a priority to formalize goals and objectives in writing, post them on the city’s website, review and revise them monthly, and hold semi-annual retreats to chart new shortand long-term goals.
“You have to have that vision and start thinking of things well in advance,” says Wilson. “That’s the foresight the leadership at Indio has demonstrated by putting it in writing. It’s become part of the fabric of the way we do things. This philosophy has been one causation of why we are seeing a lot of success.”
— Erika Z. Byrd
Ascencion “Sam” Torres
Elaine Holmes, Lupe Ramos Watson, Glenn Miller