It’s not all bad. Amid the pandemic, while businesses and events adapt (or shutter) to avoid contributing to the spread of the novel coronavirus, local leaders insist we have plenty of room for optimism. A look around the Coachella Valley confirms many exciting, job-creating developments — from expanded college campuses to water-themed housing communities to destination attractions — still hold promise for the region. Palm Springs Life asked city officials, educators, developers, and tribal leaders about the status and impacts of the valley’s most anticipated projects.
Grand Oasis Crystal Lagoon
The first phase of this expansive desert oasis in Rancho Mirage is still expected to debut within the next couple years.
Planned on 618 acres of barren land bordered by Gerald Ford Drive to the north, Monterey Avenue to the east, Frank Sinatra Drive to the south, and Bob Hope Drive to the west, the development plan calls for luxury hotels, a resort, a variety of housing, parks, retail, restaurants, and a network of walking and biking trails — all situated around a sandy beach and a swimmable crystal blue lagoon.
The city and DMB Development say the first phase, which includes the creation of the lagoon and surrounding homes, remains on schedule for a 2022–2023 opening but have not announced a timeline for the remaining phases, which include the hotels and retail outlet.
Once fully developed, the project will provide more than 1,000 full-time jobs and generate at least $10 million in annual revenues. Rancho Mirage Mayor G. Dana Hobart says the Grand Oasis will provide an alternative to traditional golf course developments. “This will extend the typical tourist season by several months,” he says, “offering recreational opportunities to a large array of users and attracting visitors from all over the globe.”
Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza
The banners hanging at the future home of the Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza in downtown Palm Springs read “2020 Vision” — a reminder of the optimism surrounding the project before the pandemic stopped construction and derailed this year’s grand opening. Located at the corner of Tahquitz Canyon Way and Indian Canyon Drive, the plaza features two attractions — The Spa at Séc-he and the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum — separated by the Oasis Trail, a place of reflection mimicking the elements of the nearby Indian Canyons.
“Each federally recognized tribe throughout this country has a distinct culture that includes traditions, language, historic clothing and housing styles, as well as historical food and medicine preparations,” says tribal chairman Jeff L. Grubbe. “We want to share that with others, as well as acknowledge the fact that we are alive and well today living in the modern world.”
Though tribal leaders are mum about construction details and timelines, the plaza will become the second-largest Native American cultural center in the nation. The 48,000-square-foot will feature a mixture of artifacts dating back thousands of years with state-of-the-art interactive exhibits. The 40,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art spa will feature the signature “taking of the waters” experience, and a menu of innovative treatments.
Who says there’s no surf in the Coachella Valley? The wait for the perfect wave is almost over as developers appear on course to bring the largest, rideable open-barrel, human-made wave in the world to the desert. As scheduled, construction of Coral Mountain, a first-of-its-kind masterplan resort community in La Quinta, will begin mid 2021. Meanwhile, the 400-acre project continues the approval process, and developers Meriwether Companies and Big Sky Wave Developments expect no delays in the construction or its completion in early 2023.
“Based on changes brought forward by the pandemic and heightened interest in the Coachella Valley,” says Garrett Simon, a partner of Meriwether Companies, “we’re more convinced than ever by the mission and vision of Coral Mountain.”
Located in the shadow of Coral Mountain, the $200 million sports and wellness resort includes a 150-room luxury hotel and up to 600 private residences.
The biggest lure for visitors will be the waves created by Kelly Slater Wave Company technology. Homeowners, hotel guests, and members will have exclusive access to the 18-million-gallon wave basin that will pump out waves that roll for more than 700 yards and offer almost one-minute rides.
College of the Desert
For more than four years, momentum has been building for an expansion of College of the Desert’s Indio campus off Oasis Street. The $56 million project calls for a new three-story classroom building with an adjacent plaza and outdoor pavilion. COD officials still expect construction to begin in 2021, more than doubling its campus capacity to almost 8,000 students and introducing an on-campus child development center.
While the pandemic may not delay the project, it likely will leave a fingerprint on it. John White, the college’s executive director of Bond and Facilities Planning, says the design may be tweaked for the safety of faculty and students.
The expansion more than doubles the capacity of COD’s Indio campus.
“COVID-19 has changed our world,” White says, “and as an institution of higher learning, we are adapting and changing along with it.”
At the same time, COD plans to build out a center for workforce innovation on approximately 27 acres at the corner of Farrell Drive and Baristo Road in Palm Springs. The project is in the early design stage.
sports and entertainment arena
The $240 million sports and entertainment arena initially planned near downtown Palm Springs will be built instead north of Palm Desert in time for the 2022-23 American Hockey League season.
L.A.-based development company Oak View Group has partnered with the nonprofit H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation to build the 10,000-seat arena on roughly 43 acres at Interstate 10 and Cook Street, near the Classic Club.
The arena will be the home of the minor league affiliate for the NHL’s Seattle Kraken.
The minor league affiliate of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken will play at the new arena.
OVG has also partnered with Live Nation Entertainment to attract other sports and entertainment events, including concerts and award shows, according to CEO Tim Leiweke. OVG’s plan to see the arena of Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians land in Palm Springs unraveled during land lease negotiations and amid concerns over traffic and parking.
Plans for a 40-plus mile bike and pedestrian path that would run through the Coachella Valley are progressing better than expected. The $100 million project, which will run from Palm Springs to Coachella along the Whitewater River and Tahquitz Creek, will provide unprecedented access for biking, walking, jogging and small electric vehicles.
The only portions completed so far are a 2.5-mile stretch from Palm Springs to Cathedral City and another 1-mile section in Palm Springs.
But Tom Kirk, executive director of the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, the agency behind the CV Link, says construction of about 20 more miles — stretching across sections of Coachella, Indio, La Quinta, Palm Desert, and Palm Springs — should begin by the end of the year and wrap up by the in early 2022. The entire project is expected to be complete in the next three to four years.
While the pandemic has changed working conditions, requiring masks and physical distancing, Kirk said it has not anchored progress. In fact, they are building more miles than anticipated this year. “Many projects had to slam on the brakes when COVID-19 hit,” he says. “CV Link wasn’t one of them. I’d almost argue that the pandemic has accelerated the project because construction is one of the only games in town, and we are able to get a lot of focus and attention on getting this done.”
CV Link will be a boon for cyclists and runners looking for new roads to travel, potentially reducing cyclist and pedestrian injuries and fatalities, and an asset to economic activity. It will also curb car emissions and, according to one study, produce more than 3 million bicycle and pedestrian trips per year by 2035.
“We’ve seen how many individuals and families have relied on walking and biking during this pandemic,” Kirk says. “More than ever, we need projects like CV Link to make sure our communities have safe, accessible routes so they can stay active and stay healthy.”
Agua Caliente Casino Cathedral City
The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, which has casinos in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage, is confident it will hit the jackpot this fall when its third local gaming operation opens in Cathedral City.
Construction on the 13-acre casino started in November 2019, and tribal officials say it’s on schedule for a grand opening this year. This comes as welcome news for job seekers eyeing the 500 new positions the project will bring. It’s also good for Cathedral City firefighters, who will receive a new fire station across the street from the casino — the result of a $5.5 million contribution from the tribe.
“It’s encouraging that this investment is going to be completed and opened,” says Joe Wallace, CEO of the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership. “In times like these, all progress provides hope and opportunity.”
The casino will be roughly 30,000 square feet, offering a gaming floor with more than slot machines and eight tables games. It will also include eateries, a sports bar, and a 12,000-square-foot outdoor pavilion for concerts, weddings, and other events.
The casino’s general manager, Michael Facenda, says, “The excitement for Agua Caliente Casino Cathedral City continues to escalate each and every day as we prepare to open later this year.”
Palm Springs Downtown Park
Residents and visitors looking forward to a world-class park in downtown Palm Springs have reason to celebrate. That’s because plans for a 2-acre park across from the Palm Springs Museum remain on track despite calls to reduce the scope of the project — or hit the brakes on it entirely — amid the city’s pandemic-induced budget shortfall. Part of an ambitious revitalization of the downtown area, the $8 million park is expected to include two lawn areas, palm groves, and a water feature reminiscent of the waterfall in Tahquitz Canyon.
City officials say they will lean on funds from Measure J — a sales tax approved by voters in 2011 to help revitalize downtown Palm Springs — to advance the project. City councilman Dennis Woods, one of the park’s biggest supporters, says the venue is more of a necessity than a luxury. “We need to constantly recreate in order to keep our edge as a world-class resort destination,” he says. “This park is going to be an iconic, timeless place, creating a unique sense of place that is truly Palm Springs.”
The original plan had the park opening in November, but with construction halted due to the pandemic, the new target is early 2021.
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