Palm Springs, California - City Guide
Like No Place Else! Palm Springs transforms itself into the hippest resort destination in Southern California.
By Amy Blaisdell
For Southern California's most legendary resort playground, 2012 has been a spectacular and historic year.
Thanks to the City of Palm Springs’ transformative Downtown Revitalization Plan, a host of innovative community and economic development projects, incentive programs, multimillion-dollar hotel renovations, and original special events and tourist attractions, the city is enjoying renewal as the hippest destination in Southern California.
In November 2011, Palm Springs voters passed Measure J, a 1-cent sales tax increase to fund the Downtown Revitalization Plan and a host of improvement projects throughout Palm Springs over the next 25 years. In January, the City and Wessman Development, who have entered into a Public/Private Partnership to reconfigure the core of downtown, celebrated — along with hundreds of residents — the first step in the revitalization of downtown: demolition of the Bank of America building on Tahquitz Canyon Way and Palm Canyon Drive. In its place stands the magnificent sculpture Forever Marilyn.
Placement of the 26-foot tall, Seward Johnson designed sculpture of legendary Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe — sponsored by P.S. Resorts, a consortium of the city’s hospitality industry leaders — has been a fabulous success with residents and tourists alike, according to Mary Jo Ginther, director of the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism.
“It’s amazing to see hundreds of residents and visitors from all over the world snapping photos in front of the sculpture daily,” Ginther says. “Forever Marilyn has turned into a unique tourist attraction that has truly put Palm Springs on the international stage.”
Visit downtown Palm Springs and you’ll see residents and international visitors from all walks of life enjoying the cool village vibe and eclectic shops, galleries, and dining destinations. You’ll also see Palm Springs prominently featured in popular sitcoms, reality television, and travel shows, as well as in many fashionable magazines and on the silver screen.
Once a haven to Hollywood celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Liberace, and Lucille Ball, the city, incorporated in 1938, is now most famous for being home to a variety of distinct tourism attractions that include the breathtaking Indian Canyons, spectacular Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, renowned Palm Springs Art Museum, The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies, and several hugely successful special events: Palm Springs VillageFest, a popular weekly street fair held every Thursday night along Palm Canyon Drive; the magnificent Festival of Lights Holiday Parade; the increasingly popular Palm Springs Modernism Week; and the world-famous Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Consistently voted the Coachella Valley’s most popular special event, the film festival — founded 24 years ago by then-Mayor Sonny Bono — attracts thousands of visitors every January. It features a star-studded awards gala, which, as a precursor to the Academy Awards, has honored some of the best actors, writers, and directors in the world, including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Colin Firth, Clint Eastwood, Sean Penn, Ben Affleck, Quentin Tarantino, Helen Mirren, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, and many more.
“Every year the stature of the Palm Springs International Film Festival grows as it continues to bring in bigger and bigger stars while showcasing some of the world’s most acclaimed foreign cinema,” says Ginther, who notes that the festival, beloved by fans and industry insiders alike, provides a huge boost to the local economy.
Another major economic boon to the city’s economy is Palm Springs Modernism Week, a sophisticated 10-day homage to the ideals of midcentury modern architecture. The event, held every February, celebrates a renewed appreciation for the city’s famed modernist roots, as well as vintage furniture, jewelry, clothing, and memorabilia.
Some of the more famous examples of midcentury modern treasures in Palm Springs include the 1946 Neutra-designed Kaufmann House; the John Lautner-designed home in Southridge for Bob Hope and his wife, Dolores; and the famous Tramway Gas Station (now the Palm Springs Visitors Center) designed by Albert Frey, John Porter Clark, and Robson Chambers. It is their work that inspired Modernism Week.
And when it comes to all things modern, downtown Palm Springs is celebrating new and emerging shops, restaurants, and boutiques — many in the city’s Uptown Design District that focus on modern décor and interior design. Recent openings include the expansion of Trina Turk and her new men’s line, Mr. Turk, and Raymond | Lawrence, a Fred Segal-style retail incubator that carries everything from mod furniture to cool threads reflecting the iconic Palm Springs resort style.
Downtown and Uptown also continue to see a plethora of new and expanded eateries, including GRIND Brgr Bar, Birba, Cheeky’s, Jiao, Trio, Workshop Kitchen + Bar, El Mirasol at Los Arboles Hotel, Three Sixty North Lounge and Restaurant, Zini Café Med, Rio Azul, Encore, and LuLu California Bistro. Popular downtown eateries Kaiser Grille and Zin American Bistro have also recently undergone major renovations.
Palm Springs tourism and hospitality continues to thrive, according to Mayor Steve Pougnet, who notes that “since October 2010, the Palm Springs hotel tax has experienced significant gains.”
Indeed, Palm Springs Convention Center has experienced the largest growth in convention bookings in recent history — highlighted by the return of the much anticipated Aircraft Owners and Pilot’s Association Aviation Summit in October 2012, another huge stimulus to the City’s economy.
These significant tourism and hospitality gains are the result of a more than $200 million reinvestment in the city’s hotel stock — along with the implementation of the City Council’s popular Hotel Incentive Program.
Palm Springs properties that have refreshed their looks include Spa Resort Casino and Hilton Palm Springs, which has begun an $8 million transformation. Other properties that recently underwent multimillion dollar transformations include the former Wyndham Hotel, which has become Renaissance Palm Springs, as well as the trendy Ace Hotel & Swim Club. Hyatt Regency in downtown Palm Springs and the legendary Riviera Resort and Spa have also been totally renovated, and the former Holiday Inn recently transformed into the hip and sophisticated Saguaro, featuring the popular new Basque-inspired restaurant Tinto, led by renowned Iron Chef Jose Garces.
“These upgraded properties allow the Palm Springs brand to renew itself and reach every generation,” Ginther says.
Palm Springs is also a leader when it comes to local job creation. Partnering with Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs, the city was designated by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of six original “innovation hubs.”
The new iHub, operated by the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership across from Palm Springs City Hall, serves as an incubator for green companies to create new jobs in the region. Pougnet calls it an “economic game changer for Palm Springs and the entire Coachella Valley.”
In fact, the iHub is incubating and mentoring seven in-house and 12 virtual clients — all new businesses in various stages of developing or prototyping innovative products for commercialization. If all goes as planned, the creation of more than 2,500 jobs is projected by 2016.
Another exciting development, the new 10,000-square-foot Accelerator Park at Palm Springs International Airport is expected to accommodate graduating iHub companies that require larger workspace to test and manufacture their products.
When it comes to job creation, another historic and transformational project coming soon to Palm Springs is the College of the Desert’s West Valley Campus. The 119-acre campus on the northwest corner of Tramview Road and Indian Canyon Drive is the first full-campus expansion of the college.
The core of the campus will be a 70-acre green park focusing on sustainable energy systems and clean research, development, training, and education. It will set the gold standard for educating thousands of students for green jobs in our region, Pougnet notes.
When it comes to stimulating our local economy, the huge success of the City’s Airline Marketing Incentive Program at Palm Springs International Airport has also proven to be a game-changing economic development in the Coachella Valley. Popular Canadian airline WestJet was the first to take advantage of the program, followed by United, Frontier, and Allegiant Airlines. The most recent addition is Virgin America, which began nonstop flights from Palm Springs to San Francisco and New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport in January. This brings expanded service to Palm Springs and the entire Coachella Valley and, with construction of the $25 million state-of-the-art airport traffic control tower, new jobs to Palm Springs. In fact, during peak season, the airport (one of the city’s largest seasonal employers) supports as many as 1,000 jobs.
And let’s not forget the important impact of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, whose thoughtful community and economic development projects continue to boost the city’s economy and play a major force in the cultural and economic enrichment of their ancestral home.
The tribe is steward to 31,500 acres of land in the Coachella Valley, including the popular Indian Canyons. In September, City officials and the Agua Caliente Tribal Council came together for the grand opening of the Chairman Richard M. Milanovich Memorial Bridge, named after the tribe’s chairman and much respected leader, who passed away earlier this year.
The bridge, in the works for more than 20 years, connects the heart of downtown to the tribe’s Tahquitz Canyon trails. Yet it also represents a “deeper link,” according to Pougnet, who notes that it highlights the unique partnership between the Agua Caliente and the City of Palm Springs, who have worked hand in hand to secure more than $3 million in public lands highway funding to ensure this much-anticipated bridge would become reality for the citizens of Palm Springs.
So as Southern California’s most famous resort destination gets ready to celebrate its 75th anniversary in April 2013, Palm Springs continues to transform and reinvent itself for future generations of residents and visitors looking for a singular place to relax, rejuvenate, and enjoy year-round sunshine and an easy lifestyle.
“The spectacular success of Palm Springs is a testament to our city’s hardworking tourism and hospitality partners and the focused dedication and commitment of the City Council when it comes to ensuring our city remains the premier resort destination in Southern California,” Pougnet says. “The best is yet to come, because Palm Springs truly is like no place else.”
Description: At the graceful age of 70, the city of Palm Springs is undergoing a rejuvenation and facelift that would be the envy of any spa patron. The city’s rich historical past and promising future will give Palm Springs much to celebrate in 2008 as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of its 1938 founding.
palm-springs-02: Stacy Keibler and George Clooney at the 2011 Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala.
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