It wasn’t so long ago that city staff and council members who attended events designed to showcase Indio’s commercial potential had to educate developers and investors as to the community’s location and demographics.
That has all changed thanks to the phenomenal growth the city has enjoyed the past few years. Last spring, city officials who attended the International Conference of Shopping Centers in Las Vegas, which attracted more than 40,000 attendees, were met with enthusiasm and interest.
“People know what’s been happening in Indio,” says Mayor Gene Gilbert. “They would say, ‘Just tell me where I can buy land.’ There were three that were specifically interested in Old Town.’”
A Rich History
One can get a glimpse of Indio’s rich history by viewing the city’s colorful murals. Native American inhabitants, agriculture, transportation, the date industry, the history of water, and electric power are subjects portrayed on large canvasses of building walls throughout the community.
Crucial to Indio’s beginnings was the building of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Because of its strategic location halfway between Yuma and Los Angeles, Indio was selected for the railroad’s desert headquarters
When Indio incorporated as a city in 1930, its population was 1,875. With the construction of the All American Canal, the first water was delivered to the Indio area in 1948, thus stimulating the agricultural industry.
Indio became known as the Date Capital of the United States because at one time about 95 percent of the nation’s dates were grown in the area.
The city flourished with increases in population, retail, and tourism. Downtown Indio, once bustling with hotels, restaurants, and shops, began to see a decline in the 1970s as businesses left for other locations or closed their doors.
Quality of Life
Today, thanks to the unprecedented growth in new home construction, Indio boasts a population of approximately 72,000. Not only is Indio the oldest city in the Coachella Valley, it also is the largest. It is a city that offers residents and seasonal visitors a quality of life that is unsurpassed among desert communities.
And it is a city that has increasingly gained renown because of its dedication to smart growth.
“The housing spurt happened very quickly, and we experienced rapid growth. We have managed the growth well, and the city is prospering” says Gilbert.
“I think a major accomplishment of our community is that we have set into place a very good administration and staff. They are experienced, well trained, and work well together,” says City Council member Melanie Fesmire.
Chalk that up to the leadership of City Manager Glenn Southard, who came on board in early 2005 after having served 17 years as city manager for the City of Claremont and prior to that some 15 years working for several other Southern California communities.
“He pretty much had to start from scratch building a staff,” Fesmire says.
Indeed, Southard set out to put together a seasoned team of city management professionals. He hired a human resources director, community development director, public works director, facilities and construction manager, chief building official, housing program manager, economic and redevelopment manager, city engineer, and finance director.
“To keep up with the infrastructure necessary to accommodate the growth, we needed someone who could take a fresh look management-wise and keep things on the right track,” says City Council member Ben Godfrey.
“As a newly elected member of the City Council, my vision in 2005 was that we would set a standard for the valley as the city with vision, that we would build a team of professionals with metropolitan foresight, and that an orchestrating city manager would build the administration to reach the city’s pinnacle of success. I envisioned this synergism would catapult the community into the future,” says City Council member Lupe Ramos Watson. “I believe that we have fulfilled this vision with the Council’s leadership and a professional staff.”
“The growth of our city speaks for itself,” says Godfrey. “We have set an environment for developers, who are knocking on our door with gusto.”
The goal is to resurface every arterial road and main street within the city over the next three years. The first phase of this $160 million project has been completed. Construction for the second phase is underway and will include Avenues 44 and 45, Cabazon Avenue, Van Buren Street, Golf Center Parkway, Kenner Avenue, and Market Street.
In addition, the city has secured $5.7 million from Caltrans, $1.5 million from the federal government, and $3.4 million from the Riverside County Transportation Commission for road improvements, widening, and landscape beautification of Highway 111.
Enhancing the quality of life for residents of all ages is a priority. Quimby and park development fees have been increased to ensure that there is adequate parkland and amenities. In the last year, more than 30 acres of parkland has been purchased for $8.6 million.
In aggressive park redevelopment program is underway that will revamp every existing park in the city by summer 2007. Additionally, the City is in the process of designing a new teen center across the street from Indio High School, and a new senior center is also being designed utilizing the old MulCare building on Aladdin Street.
The City of Indio has its own private water system. Growth has necessitated that new wells and distribution lines be developed to bring water to areas north of the I-10 freeway. To accomplish this, a $17 million water project has been developed and implemented.
More than $5 million of downtown property has been purchased.
“We want to retain the small-town atmosphere and create an inviting environment where people can get together,” says Fesmire.
On a larger scale, designs have been submitted for Home Depot and Target. Polo Square, a mixed-use project is slated to be built along Highway 111, just east of Jefferson Street, and promises to change the retail landscape in Indio. A Hog Wild restaurant and The Alley are under construction; and after 17 years, the city’s acquisition of mall property has been completed.
A major accomplishment has been a 24 percent reduction in crime from 2003 to 2005.
The city has strengthened code enforcement by enacting new codes.Plans for the Pulte Fire Station have been finalized, and the city has received a commitment from SunCal to build an additional station adjacent to their development on the northeast side of the city.
Residents and visitors to the Coachella Valley continue to take part in the excitement generated by multicultural festivals diverse in their celebrations of such things as art, cuisine, and music. Indio is internationally recognized at the City of Festivals®.
Community spirit is nurtured through ongoing interaction among city officials, residents, and the business community. In the past year, town hall meetings, special committees, and a new city-wide newsletter have encouraged participation among all segments.Smart growth and boundless enthusiasm continue to set the stage for generations to come.