The Desert's ultimate "innovation" hub sets the pace for sustainable economic growth
The stunning new Gene Autry gateway sign at the entrance to Palm Springs.
Photo by Taylor Sherrill
Palm Springs leads the way in Riverside County when it comes to creating successful community economic development programs, which have helped the desert’s most legendary resort destination become the area’s ultimate “innovation” hub, setting the pace and raising the bar when it comes to stimulating new jobs and tourism growth while remaining deeply committed to sustainability and the cultural enrichment of the community.
Indeed, when it comes to “innovation,” Palm Springs is an undisputed leader. Partnering with Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs, the City was recently designated as one of only four “innovation hubs” in Southern California.
Slated to move to newly renovated space across from Palm Springs City Hall in early 2011, the “iHub” will serve as an incubator for green companies to create new jobs in the region — and is “transformational for Palm Springs and the entire Coachella Valley,” according to Mayor Steve Pougnet. The City plans to partner with UC Riverside, Cal State San Bernardino, and College of the Desert with the intent of targeting local businesses to collaborate on emerging technology projects and research.
Another transformational project getting ready to break ground in Palm Springs is College of the Desert’s state-of-the-art sustainable West Valley Campus, expected to break ground on the northwest corner of Tramview Road and Indian Canyon Drive this fall.
The land for the new 119-acre campus will be integrated with existing recreational resources at James O. Jessie Desert Highland Unity Center and will feature a 70-acre “Green Park” focusing on sustainable energy systems and facilities for green and clean research, development, training, and education.
In addition, the college has identified other educational pillars that will include hospitality and culinary arts, as well as film, media, and allied health. The first phase of the new campus is slated to open in fall 2014 and ultimately is expected to serve more than 20,000 full- and part-time students.
“The Palm Springs campus will be one of the most green and clean in the country — and will set the gold standard when it comes to educating thousands of students for the next generation of green jobs in our region,” says Pougnet, who adds that once the campus is completed, it will become the home of the new Coachella Valley iHub.
College of the Desert also recently chose Palm Springs as the location to open its new Desert Energy Enterprise Center, just off of Interstate 10 at Gene Autry Trail. The Center houses a variety of programs and partnerships dedicated to growing a renewable energy workforce in the Coachella Valley.
Some of the exciting new programs include courses on wind turbine technician training and a new solar-thermal construction and maintenance program. In fact, the Center is expected to become the focal point of COD’s West Valley Campus, according to Edwin Deas, the college’s vice president for Business Affairs, who notes that COD views Palm Springs — with its abundance of wind and sun — as the “perfect location to expand a new green jobs curriculum.”
An aggressive effort to spur economic recovery as a result of the national recession is also underway in Palm Springs. The City Council recently committed $50,000, along with the cities of Desert Hot Springs and Cathedral City, to complete an application to establish a new Enterprise Zone that would allow existing businesses in the region to be eligible for substantial tax credits.
In addition, the Council also recently committed $100,000 to the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership Blueprint. CVEP will move its headquarters from Palm Desert to renovated space across from Palm Springs City Hall. The space is also expected to house the new iHub before it moves to COD’s West Valley Campus in 2014.
And let’s not forget that Palm Springs remains one of the few international tourist destinations in Southern California. Indeed, to ensure this world-famous profile, the City Council committed $1 million for an innovative Airline Incentive Program to expand services at Palm Springs International Airport.
Airport Executive Director Tom Nolan reports that within weeks of the initiation of the program, two qualifying routes were awarded funding. In fact, popular Canadian airline WestJet recently took advantage of the incentive program and extended weekly flights through the summer months to Calgary. In June, the airline also announced the addition of new direct service to Toronto beginning in February 2011.
“It’s a great incentive for the airlines to add new service, which is proven by WestJet’s recent expansion,” says Nolan, who notes that more than $30 million in capital improvements to the airport — including the renovation of the courtyard and the addition of new concessions like Starbucks, La Brea Bakery, and CNBC News — has made Palm Springs International Airport more appealing to airlines and to the more than 1.5 million passengers who travel in and out of the airport each year.
Palm Springs is also experiencing a tremendous renaissance when it comes to where to stay and play, thanks to a $180 million reinvestment in the City’s hotel stock. In fact, many of the city’s resort destinations have recently undergone multimillion-dollar renovations in response to a continuing wave of visitors from around the world who crave year-round sunshine and the relaxed desert lifestyle.
Most recently, the former Wyndham Hotel underwent a $40 million renovation into the new Renaissance Palm Springs, adjacent to the Convention Center. Hyatt Regency Suites in downtown underwent a $20 million transformation. Other notable Palm Springs properties that have recently refreshed their looks include the trendy new Ace Hotel & Swim Club, which underwent a $25 million renovation from a Howard Johnson Inn, and the legendary Riviera Resort & Spa, which underwent an extensive $70 million transformation.
The success of these renovations are attributed to the City’s innovative Hotel Incentive Program, which qualifies hotels that have completed multimillion-dollar renovations to receive a rebate of up to 50 percent on any new transient occupancy tax that may be generated following a renovation.
“It’s been a great incentive for hotels to renovate,” says Mary Jo Ginther, director of the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism, who notes that the upgraded properties have led to increased visitors and convention bookings.
Another huge stimulus to the economy of Palm Springs is the world-famous Palm Springs International Film Festival. Consistently voted the Coachella Valley’s most popular special event, the festival draws thousands of visitors from around the world every January. The festival’s star-studded black-tie Awards Gala (a precursor to the Academy Awards) honors some of the best actors, writers, and directors in the world, including Clint Eastwood, Sean Penn, Leonardo DiCaprio, Helen Mirren, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, and many more.
Palm Springs Modernism Week, a sophisticated 10-day homage to the ideals of midcentury modern architecture, has become another economic boon to the City’s economy. The event draws thousands of visitors every February from around the world, celebrating a renewed appreciation for the City’s famed modernist roots, as well as vintage furniture, jewelry, clothing, and much more.
Some of the most famous examples of the City’s midcentury modern jewels include the 1946 Neutra-designed Kaufmann House; the John Lautner-designed home in Southridge for Bob and Dolores Hope, and the famous Tramway Gas Station (now the Palm Springs Visitors Center) designed in 1965 by Albert Frey, John Porter Clark, and Robson Chambers. It is their work that inspired Modernism Week.
And when it comes to modernism, 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 design. Downtown and Uptown also continue to see a plethora of relocations and expansions such as Latino Books y Mas, Crystal Fantasy and most recently, Just Fabulous. In addition, many new hip and trendy eateries have opened their doors including Trio, Spunky Monkey, Desert Fox, Eat a Pita, Bill’s Pizza, Zini Med Cafe, Torme’s Restaurant, and many more.
Another huge attraction in downtown Palm Springs is VillageFest — beloved by both locals and tourists alike who enjoy strolling among the unique shops, galleries, bistros, and coffeehouses. The Coachella Valley’s most heavily attended street fair, VillageFest is held every Thursday night in downtown along Palm Canyon Drive and features booths showcasing handcrafted items from around the world — while shops and restaurants stay open late.
“Visitors love VillageFest and often plan their trips around this year-round street festival,” according to Ginther. “Conventioneers also love it because the festival is on a Thursday night when many of them are in town on business. What could be better than strolling under the stars on Palm Canyon Drive.”
Along with these successes, Palm Springs is the leader in the Coachella Valley when it comes to aggressively going after federal stimulus funds to create new jobs and jump-start a host of important projects in the community. Most notably, the City received $14 million for a new air traffic control tower at Palm Springs International Airport, as well as $1.8 million for a new park that serves as a spectacular gateway entrance to Palm Springs on the southwest corner of Gene Autry Trail and Vista Chino.
Stimulus dollars are also paving the way for commuters in Palm Springs, due in large part to the City’s Public Works Department, which ensured that more than $15 million in excess stimulus funds were put toward improving the heavily traveled Gene Autry and Indian Canyon freeway interchanges, currently under construction.
And let’s not forget the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians who continue to be 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, which — along with the Tribe’s ancestral healing waters showcased at the Spa Resort Casino Hotel — continue to play a huge role in the success of Palm Springs. In addition, the Tribe operates the Indian Canyons Golf Resort in south Palm Springs, which boasts two dramatic championship 18-hole courses nestled at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains.
Indeed, the City’s continuing economic success is derived in part by these popular tourist attractions — and also thanks to a flourishing relationship between the Tribe, City officials, and local citizens, according to Todd Hooks, the Tribe’s economic development director.
In fact, Tribal leaders and City officials came together in June for the unveiling of the first public art monument marking the southeast corner of historic Section 14, a 640-acre area in the center of Palm Springs. The black granite piece, designed by artist Doug Hyde, is located on sacred land that is part of the original reservation lands granted to the Agua Caliente by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1876.
Another important part of the Tribe’s contribution to the economic success of Palm Springs is the Spa Resort Casino. The Tribe invested $100 million in the award-winning, 228-room property, which features several popular restaurants and entertainment for people of all ages.
“The tremendous success of the Spa Resort Casino is the best example of how the Tribe remains committed to the continued economic development of Palm Springs,” says Hooks, who notes that the Tribe is focused on developing a larger footprint for the property while continuing to ensure it remains one of the premiere resort destinations in Southern California.
So as the Coachella Valley, Riverside County, California, and the nation weather the current economic recession, Palm Springs — the desert’s ultimate “innovation” hub, continues to set the pace and raise the bar when it comes to creating sustainable economic development programs that make a tangible difference in our desert community.
According to Pougnet, “When it comes to creativity and innovation in local government, no other city can compare with Palm Springs.”
Mayor: Steve Pougnet
Mayor Pro Tem: Rick Hutcheson
Council Members: Ginny Foat, Chris Mills, Lee Weigel
Year Incorporated: 1938
Median Household Income: $58,955