‘This is it’: Frustrated City Council approves amendments that keep Orchid Tree project moving forward

What was not on the table Monday evening was a backup plan the developer has alluded to for the property — a seven-story, 308-unit affordable housing complex.
An earlier rendering of what a proposed Orchid Tree resort and Spa could look like in Downtown Palm Springs.

The developer of a proposed luxury hotel project on prime downtown property got additional concessions Monday night. Still, as the project continues to drag out, city officials are determined that they will be the last.

The Palm Springs City Council unanimously agreed to amendments to the agreement for the Orchid Tree Hotel project, planned for the intersection of West Baristo and South Belardo roads but facing delays due to increased construction costs and trouble securing financing.

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However, councilmembers again admonished Richard Weintraub, who has been shepherding the project through City Hall since 2014.

“The city has bent over backward in order to make this a successful project and we’ve withstood one delay after another in moving forward,” Councilmember Lisa Middleton said before the vote. “On multiple occasions we’ve said this is it. And then we get another threat of lawsuit.

“This is it.”

The property, located on 3.6 acres at 284 West Baristo Rd., contained the Orchid Tree Inn and Community Church. Some buildings there 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.

It is one of four hotel developments that had stalled in the city, drawing the ire of residents and city officials alike. In March 2021, the city notified the hotel developers — including the Orchid Tree, Dream Hotel, Andaz (now a Thompson Hotel), and TOVA hotels — 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 hotel project’s shell. The hotel formerly known as the Andaz, which is now a Thompson Hotel, is under construction. The Dream Hotel is also moving ahead.

Up for discussion Monday evening was the latest in a series of agreements hammered out between Weintraub and city staff. Negotiations followed the council’s rejection of a proposal in February that would have seen the developer receive 100% of the future property’s transient occupancy tax (TOT) for the first 10 years of operation and a three-year delay in paying city fees in exchange for a $1 million security deposit.

On Monday, councilmembers agreed to the fee deferment. More importantly, they agreed to cooperate with the developer to allow some of the hotel units to be sold as residential condominiums — which should help with financing for the larger project — and to push out the development schedule.

Under terms of the agreement approved Monday evening, Weintraub now has 90 days to submit schematic plans for review, 15 months to begin construction, and 44 months to open the doors.

What was not on the table was a backup plan Weintraub has alluded to for the property — a seven-story, 308-unit affordable housing complex he claims he would move forward with should the city not allow him to build the luxury hotel.

“The residential complex is not before us, and Mr. Weintraub knows this because I have told him,” Middleton said. “It was surfaced to inflame the public and scare the public in hopes we would create more favorable terms in this agreement.”


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