Backers of a project that would have transformed a historic enclave in the Historic Tennis Club neighborhood into an exclusive, members-only Soho House property announced Friday afternoon they are canceling their plans, catching city officials by surprise.
“We love the area and the community, but the bureaucracy has proven insurmountable,” said Ron Burkle, who purchased the seven-acre Colony 29 enclave along with other nearby properties four years ago. “We would like to thank the members of the City Council and community who have supported this project, and we are disappointed to be in this position.
“When completed, this would have been the largest preservation project in the history of Palm Springs.”
Neither Burkle nor project consultant Tim Gleason provided details on what led to the project’s demise, including what issues they might have encountered with the city. Their plans appeared to have been well received at City Hall, where they were working their way through review and had been hailed as “a game-changer for Palm Springs” by some in the community.
In an email sent Saturday afternoon, Mayor Grace Garner and Planning Director Chris Hadwin both expressed surprise at the move, saying “there was no indication whatsoever that Soho House was moving anywhere but forward with their project.”
“We’ve been awaiting revised plans the applicant has been working on to address concerns raised by the community at their open house last fall,” Hadwin said. “We understood they were looking to hold an additional open house next month and we have been ready and willing to work with them to advance this project.
“We’re not holding them up. We’re very supportive of the project at the staff level.”
Neighbors of the property nestled on the lower slopes of the San Jacinto mountains had raised concerns about traffic, parking, and other disturbances brought on by construction, but behind the scenes progress was reportedly being made.
While news of the cancelation might come as a shock to those familiar with the property and Burkle’s plans, a statement released Friday alluded to difficulties.
“The plan was to do something special for Palm Springs,” said Gleason. “We made decisions to lessen the impact to the neighborhood and the city. We took control of the lot next to Le Vallauris to keep cars off the project; canceled new hotel rooms and the underground parking.
“We were committed to being a good neighbor and preserving the historic character and key elements of the property. However, the costs imposed for all the issues raised made it unfeasible and, at best, two years beyond our planned opening date.”
Garner, however, wondered if the difficulties might be on the developer’s side.
“There’s no discernible reason for why this is happening,” the mayor said. “They presented at Modernism Week just days ago. The on-the-ground team wanted to meet with Chris on Monday. There’s clearly a disconnect between what’s happening at the very top of this organization and what’s actually happening in Palm Springs.”
The seven-acre property was initially developed between 1926 and 1929 as an informal artists’ retreat by Chicago banker John Hudson Burnham. It currently consists of six homes on a hillside off South Tahquitz Drive. Burkle purchased the property, along with The O’Donnell House, Willows Historic Palm Springs Inn, and Le Vallauris restaurant.
When complete, the project would have seen the renovation of five existing buildings at the former Burnham Artist Colony to create nine guest rooms, a clubhouse/lounge, an entry and restaurant, a swim club building, a large swimming pool with cabanas and terraces, and landscaped areas. Parking for the swim club was to be provided at a nearby parcel of land, and Soho Club members would have walked or taken a shuttle to the club.
“In short, we wanted to build a swim club that would honor the history of hospitality in Palm Springs, cleaning up the existing structures and providing food and beverage,” Gleason said Friday.
Soho House is notorious for its selective club membership policy. A committee composed of club members decides who is and isn’t granted access to more than two dozen clubs worldwide. Burkle and Soho House officials could not say Friday what would become of the property nor whether Soho House will look to open elsewhere in the Coachella Valley.