Agreement to extend deadline for Orchid Tree project comes with push to begin improving, securing property
Plans to build a resort on a prime piece of Downtown Palm Springs real estate currently known more for drug use than its historical value were allowed to be pushed out again Thursday evening by the City Council. The move did not come without conditions that something is done immediately to begin cleaning and securing the property.
The property, located on 3.1 acres at 284 West Baristo Rd., contained the Orchid Tree Inn and Community Church. The buildings date back to the 1930s but have remained vacant for many years. Multiple fires have plagued the property, including one in 2013 that nearly burned the historic church to the ground.
Neighbors have pleaded with the city to force the owner to secure and clean the property for years. They point to multiple instances of drug use and sales on the site as reasons to ask the property’s owner, Richard Weintraub, to take action. Weintraub first brought the concept of creating the Orchid Tree Resort and Spa to City Hall in 2014 and has since received multiple extensions to delay significant work at the site.
As envisioned, a hotel with a spa, restaurant, bar, and meeting space would be erected on the property. Completion of the development would include the re-use of two Class 1 historic sites, demolition of existing structures, and construction of new hotel buildings.
Thursday evening, the Council approved an amended agreement with Weintraub that requires the action neighbors want. The agreement calls for the immediate start of work that would lead to demolishing buildings on the property that are not of historical value, hiring overnight on-site security, and installing cameras that will record every move on the property.
The vote was not without stern warnings from some who have heard the neighbors’ frustrations loud and clear and were frustrated with the fact that under terms of the amended agreement the developer now has until April 2025 to complete the project.
“One of the really difficult issues in this is that there have been so many delays that the credibility of this project is now very much an issue within the community,” said Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton. “Most people I talk to who are neighbors of the project who were originally excited about it now begin conversations with me by saying, ‘You know this is never going to get done.’
“That’s a really tough place to be in, when over and over again that is how conversations begin on this project.”
The Orchid Tree project is one of four hotel developments that had stalled in the city, drawing the ire of residents and city officials alike. In March, the city sent notice to developers of those hotels — Orchid Tree, Dream Hotel, Andaz (now a Thompson Hotel), and TOVA — of its intent to seek judicial relief if the developments were not re-commenced or their nuisances otherwise abated.
The TOVA hotel was subsequently abated by its owner through the demolition of the project’s shell. The hotel formerly known as the Andaz, which is now a Thompson Hotel, has recently re-commenced construction and is expected to open in late 2022 or early 2023. The owners of the Dream Hotel have recently met with city staff and the City Attorney’s Office to submit revised project plans to move forward with that project.
In other action Thursday night:
- The Council discussed a broad conceptual framework for a reparations program following the formal apology for Section 14 evictions and the decision to begin removing the Frank Bogert statue from in front of City Hall. Discussion points included what approach to take (settlement vs. atonement), who might qualify, whether reparations would come in the form of payments or programs, and how much should be allocated. During public comments earlier in the evening, members of a newly formed group consisting of Section 14 survivors spoke in support of the move and offered to meet with city leaders. There was widespread agreement that housing should be a central focus of any program. “This began with people losing home homes, and where it needs to come back to is people gaining homes,” said Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton.
- Council members voted unanimously to send a letter to College of the Desert (COD) addressing concerns over the lack of forward movement for construction of a planned Palm Springs campus. They also voted to authorize hiring of an outside legal firm to represent the city in dealing with College of the Desert, at a cost of up to $500,000. That move was necessary, Councilmember Geoff Kors said, because COD refused to issue a waiver allowing City Attorney Jeffrey Ballinger to work with COD because he works at the same firm as the COD attorney. At issue are allegations that the college is being used as part of a political power play — first reported in The Post here — and lack of communication about the project from COD leadership, including new President Martha Garcia.
- New Police Chief Andrew Mills was sworn in, officially, by Mayor Christy Holstege, saying of the city, “It truly, truly is a spectacular place. But I want you to know that as you can see we stand united in mission and purpose. …The men and women of the Palm Springs Police Department have demonstrated their fidelity to the Constitution by protecting Palm Springs and making it a refuge of justice and safety for all people. …I look forward to joining your ranks.”
- The Council issued a proclamation honoring Nichi Aviña, a Palm Springs teacher who was recently named a California State Teacher of the Year. Aviña teaches at at Cielo Vista Charter School.
DAY OF REMEMBRANCE: Events at Palm Springs City Hall and a popular Downtown venue are planned to recognize Transgender Day of Remembrance on Saturday. At City Hall, located at 3200 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, The Transgender Health and Wellness Center will hold an event at 5 PM. Keynote speakers will be Precious Brady-Davis and Joey Soloway. Queer Works is organizing another event at Oscar’s Palm Springs, 125 East Tahquitz Canyon Way. The Coachella Valley Transgender Day of Remembrance will be held at that popular venue from 5:30 PM until 7:30 PM. The evening program will include light refreshments, a welcome from Palm Springs Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton, a keynote from Miss Nevada USA Kataluna Enriquez, and the traditional reading of the names. The event is open to anyone and everyone, regardless of gender identity. Allies are especially welcome to attend.
COMMUNITY GIVING: Giving season is underway in Palm Springs, and got a boost Thursday with a pair of events designed to help feed those in need. At The Palm Springs Air Museum the crew from Erkies Heating and Air Conditioning (seen above), along with museum volunteers handed out 400 turkeys during the annual giveaway that Erkies owner Dane Feldman organizes. Meanwhile, at Ralph’s Grocery in Smoke Tree Village, Sunline Transit was stuffing a bus full of nonperishable food with the help of volunteers from The LGBTQ Center of the Desert and transit company employees.
MIZELL EVENTS: The Mizell Center, 480 S. Sunrise Way, offers Wii bowling, backgammon, and more, starting at 8 AM. A complete list of everything offered can be found online here.
BOOK CLUB: The Friends of the Palm Springs Library book club meets today at 2 PM via Zoom. This month the club is discussing Warlight by Michael Ondaatje. More information about the meeting can be found here.
SINATRA CELEBRATION: Palm Springs Point of View, a YouTube channel that covers “Eats, Art and Culture” in Palm Springs and elsewhere in the Coachella Valley, is holding its next Martinis and Moxie event tonight at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 E. Baristo Rd., at 6 PM. Tickets for that event are available here.
SUNSHINE SISTERS: Palm Springs Sunshine Sisters will meet for bowling at Palm Springs Lanes this evening at 7 PM. You can sign up to be part of the group — formed to help women make new connections and friendships — on Meetup here.
CLASSIC CAR AUCTION: McCormick’s 71st Annual Classic Car Auction begins today and runs through Sunday at the Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 North Avenida Cabelleros. The auction of more than 500 cars takes place between 10 AM and 5 PM and is open to both the general public and dealers. Prices range from $2,000 to more than $250,000. Admission today is free, and $15 for either Saturday or Sunday. You can buy admission for both weekend days for $25 for all days
PLAY CONTINUES: The Palm Springs premiere of This Side of Crazy at Palm Canyon Theatre continues tonight. The performance, which starts at 8 PM tonight and Saturday, and 2 PM on Sunday, follows the successful run of Shores’ Sordid Lives in September. Tickets are $29.50 ($15.00 for students) and can be purchased online at PalmCanyonTheatre.org, via phone at 760-323-5123, or at the box office, open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 AM until 4 PM. You can find a complete preview of the play in The Post here.
FARMERS’ MARKET: The Palm Springs Certified Farmers’ Market is held at 2300 E. Baristo Rd. (adjacent to The Camelot Theatres) from 8:30 AM until 1:30 PM. All Certified Farmers’ Markets offer a $15/$15 match to customers participating in CalFresh EBT and a $10/$10 match for WIC, SSDI, and federal unemployment. Find more details about all three Coachella Valley certified farmers’ markets here.
FOOD DISTRIBUTION: Well in the Desert distributes food every Saturday at 6 AM and 10 AM at 181 N. Indian Canyon Dr. For the early distribution, guests typically begin lining up at 5 AM and must show proof of residency (a rent receipt, utility bill, etc.). For both distributions, guests are asked to bring a box, bags or other containers to transport food items. More information is available by phoning the Well’s office at 760-656-8905. The Well also offers hot lunches Monday through Friday at 11 AM and 1 PM at various locations throughout the city.
FLEA MARKET: A flea market and food fest is held Saturdays at 675 Crossley Rd. from 8 AM until 2 PM. Information can be found here.
TAHQUITZ CREEK CLEANING: The Tahquitz Creek Yacht Club meets to clean up a portion of Tahquitz Creek Channel at 8 AM Saturday. Volunteers gather at the south end of the footbridge at South Camino Real and South Riverside Drive. You can find the club’s Facebook page here and contact the club via email at [email protected].
BOB MACKIE APPEARANCE: Legendary designer Bob Mackie will be signing a new coffee table book about his life and career of nearly six decades Saturday from 5 PM until 7 PM at Just Fabulous, 515 North Palm Canyon Drive. The book is the first-ever comprehensive and authorized showcase of Mackie’s life and work, featuring hundreds of photos and dozens of never-before-seen sketches from his personal collection.
DESERT WINDS OPENS SEASON: Desert Winds Freedom Band presents its Fall Concert titled A Night on Broadway on Saturday at 7 PM. Tickets for the performance, held at Temple Isaiah, 332 West Alejo Rd., can be purchased here. The band returned to in-person rehearsals in September and is embarking on its 20th Anniversary concert season under the leadership of Artistic Director Dean McDowell. You can learn more about the band and listen to recent virtual performances at its website here.
SUNDAY ARTISAN MARKET: You can shop and visit with local artisans offering carefully-curated homemade and unique local products, including art, beauty, health, jewelry, home goods, apparel and accessories, personalized gifts, and more on Sunday between 9 AM and 2 PM at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 East Baristo Road.
CABARET SHOW: Douglas Graham, featured in The Post’s Palm Springs Profiles recently, makes his sixth appearance for Les Michael’s “Cabaret On Sundays Series” Sunday at The Joslyn Center’s Arthur Newman Theater, 73750 Catalina Way in Palm Desert. Graham will feature some songs, dances and stories from his Broadway & touring company productions over his long career during the performance. Doors open at 2 PM and the performance begins at 3 PM. Tickets are $15 and may be purchased at the door. For more information, or to make reservations, call 760-202-1111.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
MOBILE CHRISTMAS: Well in the Desert is again planning its annual Christmas event as a mobile event due to COVID-19 restrictions, organizers said this week. The drive-up event will be held Saturday, December 18, from 11:30 AM until 3 PM at The United Methodist Church, 1555 East Alejo Rd. As in years past, volunteers will distribute a frozen turkey and pie, as well as gifts for children to open on Christmas Day to any family in need. Santa and Mrs. Clause will be on hand, and entertainment will be provided by Mariachi al Amanecer. Organizers said they cannot make the event possible without the generosity of the community and local businesses. Any business that can place a toy collection box in their store is asked to contact The Well at 760-285-7297. Toys and turkeys are also needed. Community members who can afford to help are asked to donate toys in the $15-$20 range, as well as turkeys in the 16-pound range. you can contact the number above if you wish to make donations.
STRUT AWARDS VOTING: Voting has started for the STRUT Awards, slated to be handed out next month in Palm Springs. The STRUT Awards are a people’s choice voting event designed to honor members of the local LGBTQ+ industry. Nominations were accepted in more than two dozen categories, and now it’s time to vote. You can do that by going here. Winners will be announced and celebrated on December 12 during an event at Margaritaville Palm Springs beginning at 6 PM. Tickets for the event can be purchased here.
BENEFIT RUNS: Registration for the city’s annual Wild Turkey Trot 5K is open now at runpalmsprings.com, as well as active.com and racewire.com. The event is held on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 25, at 8 AM, and offers entrants a chance to get in some exercise before Thanksgiving dinner. It starts at 100 North Palm Canyon Drive. Registrants for the event receive a T-shirt, a medal, and more. The run benefits local charities. Questions? Feel free to contact Molly Thorpe, the race director, at 760-413-6508. Another Thanksgiving Day run, which helps Martha’s Village and Kitchen, is being held virtually this year. More information on that event, sponsored by Fortem Financial, can be found here.
SOCIAL DANCING: You can burn off Thanksgiving calories by learning how to swing dance on Friday November 26th, starting at 7 PM at the Palm Springs Dance Academy (next to Revivals). No partner is needed, and it’s perfect for beginners. You can join the fun and reserve your spot at this site.
DESERT JAM: The annual benefit for Palm Springs-based Well in the Desert — Desert Jam 2021: Jammin’ for the Well — is slated for Monday, December 6 at the Agua Caliente Resort Casino ballroom in Rancho Mirage at 6 PM. All proceeds benefit The Well’s work to feed and provide for those experiencing homelessness in our community. More information, including how to purchase tickets for the event can be found here or by calling 760-285-7297.
POLICE AND FIRE EVENT: The Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce is taking reservations for its annual Police & Fire Appreciation Luncheon, held Tuesday, December 7, from 11:30 AM until 1 PM at the Palm Springs Convention Center. More information about tickets and sponsorship opportunities is available here.