It’s official: Palm Springs is ultra-cool and in demand!
Yes, indeed. It has been another spectacular year for Southern California’s most legendary resort playground. Once a haven to Hollywood megastars like Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Liberace, Elvis Presley, and Lucille Ball, Palm Springs has experienced a historic transformation over the past several years — and is now the hippest, most happening resort destination in California and beyond.
In fact, there’s no doubt that thanks to the City’s transformative Downtown Revitalization Plan, a host of innovative economic development projects, incentive programs, multimillion-dollar hotel renovations, and uniquely original special events and tourist attractions, the City has renewed itself into an ultra-cool destination.
The most exciting project, the redevelopment of the former Desert Fashion Plaza, began in earnest last year, is now moving full-speed ahead, with plans for the opening of a sleek 155-room Kimpton Hotel to break ground this month. The new hotel will feature a magnificent rooftop pool, bar, and signature restaurant along with meeting space — all wrapped in the City’s iconic modern architecture and surrounded by gorgeous mountain vistas. In addition, the City is working with Wessman Development to secure quality retail tenants for the dramatic new outdoor boutique shopping and dining complex.
“After years of hard work by our City Council, staff, and the developer, real progress is moving forward on this project, which is so important to the economic success of Palm Springs and the entire Coachella Valley,” says Mayor Steve Pougnet.
Something else everyone is buzzing about is a new events venue across from the Palm Springs Art Museum. This is expected to be the home of “Tachevah,” a hugely successful music block party created by Goldenvoice, the producer of the world-famous Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. This past April, more than 10,000 music lovers attended the second annual event in downtown Palm Springs, featuring world-famous rockers Fitz and the Tantrums. Next year’s event is expected to be even bigger, according to Aftab Dada, Chairman of P.S. Resorts, who along with the City, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, community leader Harold Matzner, and The Desert Sun, are the lead sponsors of the event.
In addition, a host of other exciting improvement projects are currently underway in Palm Springs thanks to the passage of Measure J. From street paving to park and library improvements — to a new and much-anticipated free trolley, which will transport residents and visitors all around town, a plethora of transformational, quality-of-life projects are breaking ground.
Another exciting development in Palm Springs is the incredible success of the summer pool party and music weekend Splash House, produced by Goldenvoice and LED, which is now in its second year at three amazing venues: the Hard Rock Hotel in downtown Palm Springs, The Saguaro Palm Springs, and the ultra-hip new Hacienda Cantina and Beach Club in South Palm Springs.
“Splash House is a true summer success story,” says Mary Jo Ginther, director of the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism. “It went from one event last summer to two this summer — and it just keeps getting bigger. This summer, more than 3,000 people enjoyed the City’s ultra-cool vibe along with some truly talented, up-and-coming DJs. Palm Springs is no longer a sleepy town in August.”
In fact, visit downtown Palm Springs and you’ll see that it is bustling all year long with residents and international visitors from all walks of life enjoying eclectic shops, galleries, and unique dining destinations. Palm Springs continues to be prominently featured in popular sitcoms, reality television and travel shows, fashionable magazines, and Hollywood films. Most recently, the tremendous success of Palm Springs tourism was spotlighted in a much-gabbed-about feature in The New York Times style section — and the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills filmed one of their episodes in the City. In addition, Beverly Hills housewife and former Queen of the Palm Springs White Party, Lisa Vanderpump, received a star on the world-famous Walk of Stars — and let’s not forget Academy Award–nominated actor Leonardo DiCaprio recently purchased Dinah Shore’s famed midcentury modern masterpiece in Old Las Palmas.
“Palm Springs is in huge demand — and stars like Leonardo DiCaprio love our yearround sunshine, relaxed desert lifestyle, wonderful architecture, and phenomenal music and film festivals,” says Ginther, who notes President Barack Obama’s visits to the desert for diplomacy and golf are becoming more and more frequent.
Not surprisingly, film and television producers from around the world flock to Palm Springs to shoot their productions — and with that in mind, the City Council approved a popular “Film Friendly” Incentive Program which provides a grant of up to $5,000 for lodging, rentals, food and beverage, and location assistance. Additionally, the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism developed a new “virtual film office” located at PSFilmFriendly.com, which assists locations managers and filmmakers in finding the perfect spot for their production while providing them with important introductions to local tourism partners.
Consistently voted the Coachella Valley’s most popular special event, the Palm Springs International Film festival — founded 26 years ago by then–Mayor Sonny Bono — draws in thousands of visitors every January. It features a star-studded Awards Gala and has honored some of the best actors, writers, and directors in the world — including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Ben Affleck, Quentin Tarantino, Helen Mirren, Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, and many more.
“Every year, the film festival and Awards Gala gets bigger and better while showcasing some of the world’s most acclaimed cinema,” according to Ginther, who notes that the festival, beloved by fans and industry insiders alike, provides a huge boost to the local economy and is the biggest and most glamorous event of the season.
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. Modernism Week and organizers have also added a new “Fall Kick-off” in October, featuring a series of double-decker bus and walking tours, films, lectures, exhibitions, cool parties, and much more.
Palm Springs is celebrating new and emerging shops, restaurants, and boutiques — many in the City’s flourishing Uptown Design District that focus on modern décor and interior design. In addition, Downtown and Uptown along with South Palm Springs continue to see new and expanded eateries, including the Purple Room, Appetito, Hacienda Cantina and Beach Club, L’Atelier Cafe, Gyoro Gyoro Japonaise Izakaya, Ernest Coffee, Workshop Kitchen + Bar and a new Thai Smile on the corner of Tahquitz Canyon and Indian Canyon Drive. The new Bootlegger Tiki, in the former Don the Beachcomber location, and the popular restaurant Dish, moving to Palm Springs from Cathedral City are new additions to Uptown.
In fact, Palm Springs tourism and hospitality are thriving, according to Pougnet, who notes that continued tourism gains over the past several years are the result of more than $200 million reinvestment in the City’s hotel stock, along with the implementation of the City Council’s popular Hotel Incentive Program.
Perhaps most exciting, the hip, new 163-room Hard Rock Hotel opened last October in downtown Palm Springs and recently announced that celebrity chef Kerry Simon will take over the restaurant, a coup for Palm Springs foodies.
Other Palm Springs properties that have recently refreshed their looks include the Hilton Palm Springs, which underwent an $8 million transformation, and the former El Rancho Lodge in South Palm Springs is now the beautifully rustic Sparrows Lodge. In addition, the former Spanish Inn recently opened as the Triada Resort & Spa, a Marriott Autograph property located in Uptown Palm Springs.
“These new and/or upgraded properties allow the Palm Springs brand to renew itself and reach every generation of visitor,” Ginther says.
Palm Springs is also a leader when it comes to local job creation: The City was designated by the state of California as one of six original “innovation hubs.” The “iHub,” operated by the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership and located across from Palm Springs City Hall, serves as an incubator for green companies to create new jobs in the region. Now in its fourth year, the iHub nurtures startup companies in the fields of wind and solar as well as high-tech and biotech and continues to be an “economic game-changer” for Palm Springs and the entire Coachella Valley, Pougnet says.
In fact, the success of the iHub has led to a new 41,000-square-foot Accelerator Campus at the Palm Springs International Airport, which currently houses iHub graduates who are ready to conduct prototype development, manufacturing, and commercialization of products or services with the goal of creating more local jobs. The Accelerator recently received a $785,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Economic Development for continued expansion and improvements.
And when it comes to stimulating our economy and supporting as many as 1,000 local jobs during peak tourism season, the tremendous success of the City’s Airline Marketing Incentive Program at Palm Springs International Airport has proven to be another extraordinary economic driver for the Coachella Valley. The City Council committed $1 million to the program, and popular Canadian airline WestJet was the first to take advantage, followed by United, Alaska, Frontier, Allegiant, and most recently, Virgin America and Air Canada Rouge. This brings expanded service to Palm Springs and the entire Coachella Valley and, coupled with nearly $100 million in improvements over the past several years along with a new $25 million airport traffic control tower, new excitement to Palm Springs International Airport.
And finally, let’s not forget the important impact of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, whose 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, including the popular Indian Canyons, and is one of the City’s most important partners.
“Rooted in rich history, the City and Tribal Council are dedicated to working together to improve the quality of life for our residents and visitors through a host of community partnerships,” says Pougnet. “From the construction of the Richard M. Milanovich Bridge on Belardo Road to a new median along Tahquitz Canyon Way, the City’s important relationship with the Agua Caliente cannot be overstated, and we thank them for their continued support of the City of Palm Springs.”
The City is definitely on a roll when it comes to what’s hip, happening, and ultracool, according to Pougnet, “Palm Springs truly is like no place else!”
— Amy Blaisdell
Ginny Foat, Paul Lewin, Chris S. Mills