The 26-foot-tall Forever Marilyn sculpture.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY ETHAN KAMINSKY
Navigating a global pandemic since March 2020, Palm Springs has adapted to ever-changing circumstances to ensure that economic development continues to thrive while keeping the health and safety of residents and visitors top priority. Thanks to innovative city-led programs and the determined efforts of the City Council and key stakeholders, Palm Springs has not only navigated this global crisis, but is now brilliantly poised for a post-pandemic comeback.
“COVID-19 caught every municipality off-guard,” says City Manager Justin Clifton, “We knew we had to take immediate and significant action when it came to paving a path to recovery.”
Mayor Pro Tem:
Grace Elena Garner
To that end, the city formed the Mayor’s COVID-19 Task Force to address the public health and economic impacts of the pandemic, as well as establish protections and guidelines for residents, workers and businesses. Stakeholders also partnered with the City to develop its “PS Keeping You Safe” public awareness campaign to remind residents and visitors about the City’s COVID-19 safety requirements.
Support of local businesses has also been top priority throughout the pandemic. One new program — the $1 million Small Business Financial Aid Program — awarded $10,000 forgivable loans to help businesses keep their doors open. The city also implemented an eviction moratorium for commercial tenancies to help struggling businesses.
Palm Springs also created programs to assist residents, such as a new, $500,000 rental assistance program for low-income households impacted by the pandemic. In addition, the City partnered with the County of Riverside to designate the Palm Springs Convention Center as a COVID-19 testing and vaccination site to ensure accessibility for residents.
“All of these programs, partnerships and initiatives are part of a strategy that has helped Palm Springs return to our pre-pandemic level of success,” Clifton says.
That level of success has fueled explosive activity at Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) — and is a clear indicator that Palm Springs tourism has rebounded like nowhere else in Southern California. In June 2021 alone, nearly 130,000 total passengers flew in and out of the airport, shattering its previous June record by a staggering 23 percent.
The demand has led to a flurry of announcements over the last year for new carriers, nonstop service destinations and increased service for existing routes. Southwest Airlines, for example, brought much anticipated service to PSP in the middle of the pandemic, and now flies nonstop to eight domestic destinations. Alaska and Allegiant Airlines also announced new nonstop routes to Austin and Nashville, making Palm Springs easier to visit than ever!
As more travelers opt to stay closer to home, Palm Springs is also seeing increased demand from visitors within driving distance, such as Los Angeles and San Diego. With Palm Springs only a two-hour drive away, the desert offers a low-risk getaway option.
Festivals and events are also making a safe return to Palm Springs. Splash House, which sold out within two hours, was one of the first to return in August. Other iconic events including the Palm Springs International Film Festival and Modernism Week will also return this season.
On the meetings and conventions side, Palm Springs is well positioned for a bounce back.
“Fall and winter bookings are strong and pre-pandemic numbers are expected as soon as next year,” according to Rob Hampton, General Manager of the Palm Springs Convention Center.
In the summer of 2021, Palm Springs also welcomed back a wildly popular attraction with deep local roots: Forever Marilyn, a 26-foot-tall sculpture of Marilyn Monroe in her iconic white dress from “The Seven Year Itch.” Originally installed at Palm Canyon Drive and Tahquitz Canyon Way from 2012 through 2014, Forever Marilyn now sits at the corner of Museum Way and Belardo Road, welcoming visitors who are eager to snap photos to share on social media.
Aftab Dada, Chairman of P.S. Resorts, the group of stakeholders responsible for bringing Marilyn back, believes that her reach — ranging from the hundreds of news stories covering her return — to social media posts from locals and visitors alike — will ultimately bring additional tourism dollars into the city.
“We knew that by bringing Forever Marilyn back, we would be creating a huge economic driver, especially considering the impact of the pandemic on our downtown businesses,” said Dada. “She’s a fun and free attraction for both residents and visitors to enjoy.”
As Downtown continues to evolve, Forever Marilyn will soon be joined by the adjacent Downtown Park, slated to open this fall. Funded in part by Measure J, the 1.5-acre park will feature two grassy lawns, palm groves, public restrooms, a new downtown police substation, and an event stage for live music and events.
New affordable housing options are coming soon as well. Earlier this year, the state awarded $21 million for the construction of the Monarch Apartment Homes, a $29 million, 60-unit affordable complex that will break ground in late 2021. The first affordable housing complex to be developed in more than a decade, the project will feature one-, two- and three-bedroom apartment homes located on more than 3.5 acres at the corner of North Indian Canyon Drive and San Rafael Drive
New affordable housing for seniors is also moving forward. Aloe Palm Canyon recently received $6.4 million in state funding. The development will provide housing and services, with 71 units, (25 for permanent supportive housing for seniors experiencing homelessness) — and onsite medical and mental health support from DAP Health. Finally, Vista Sunrise II, a 61-unit apartment complex for homeless and people with chronic illnesses is coming soon adjacent to Desert AIDS Project.
“It’s been sensational to see the incredible level of investment, commitment and optimism in our community,” says Clifton. “Moving forward, the future is brighter than ever for Palm Springs.”
Annual Growth Rate
Average Household Income
Median Household Income
EDUCATION (Ages 25 and older)
High School Diploma
Admin/Support/Waste Management Services
Source: Esri/Coachella Valley Economic Partnership