Palm Springs Convention Center to Open : Seen as Magnet for Attracting Major Hotels

Times Staff Writer

Sonny Bono is a critic when it comes to real estate development in Palm Springs, but even Bono has good things to say about the town’s new convention center, the first in the Coachella Valley.

“I think it will be fabulous for the city,” he said of the $35-million, 100,000-square-foot project, which will open officially next Saturday as part of the community’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

“If administered with proper guidance, with me as mayor, it will be a tremendous asset.”

Candidate for Mayor

He chuckled, but it’s no laugh that Bono, who became a Palm Springs restaurateur after his breakup with wife and singing/TV show partner Cher, is running in the April 12 election against seven other candidates, not including the city’s current mayor, Frank Bogert.

Not surprisingly, Bogert is also a booster of the center, saying:


“During its first year of operation, the new convention center will bring in over $32 million in new revenue to the community. It will not only help the merchants but will also supplement the local tax base while acting as a magnet for hotel development.

“Like Anaheim, we have enough land around the center to accommodate other large hotels.”

Palm Springs like Anaheim? The thought might make some Palm Springs residents gasp, but there is already one new hotel connected to the center, the 410-room, $68-million Wyndham.

Several more hotels have been built nearby in the past three years, and three are under construction: the $6-million, 149-room Marriott Courtyard; $2.6-million, 94-room Hampton Inn, and $2.6-million, 200-room Sharona Lodge.

Converting Apartments

In addition, hundreds of apartments that were part of the old Canyon Hotel, the main part of which has been closed and is undergoing an ownership change, are being turned into the Palm Springs Resort at a cost of $800,000.

The Wyndham is the only hotel so far, though, with direct access to the convention center.

“We were going to have one big event to open the entire (convention) complex,” Nicolas de Segonzac, the Wyndham’s general manager, said, “but things didn’t quite work out.”

To the rumor that the elegant-looking Wyndham, where nightly room rates range from $150 to $190, backed out after country music star Merle Haggard was signed to headline an evening of low-cost entertainment at the convention center, Segonzac said that the hotel decision was made before Haggard was selected.

Elvis Connection

The Wyndham is Trammell Crow’s first West Coast hotel project, and Trammell Crow is based in Dallas, where western music is as popular as the waltz in Vienna.

The convention center also has another connection to a singer who swayed the masses: Elvis Presley.

His Palm Springs house, believed to be the only home he ever owned besides Graceland in Memphis, Tenn., is being used for receptions and meetings related to conventions.

The house is filled with such Presley memorabilia as Gold Records, a photo of him with Priscilla (his wife at the time), and his baby daughter; a restored juke box filled with Presley’s and other rock ‘n’ rollers’ hits, and a copy of an Aug. 17, 1977, Memphis newspaper with the banner headline: “A Lonely Life Ends on Elvis Presley Boulevard.”

A new life is beginning, though, on Avenida Caballeros, where the Palm Springs Convention Center is located. Julie Baumer, assistant to the city manager, said, “It’s opened up a whole new world for us.”

There has been talk for some time of convention centers in Indian Wells and Bermuda Dunes, but none is yet under construction. So Palm Springs is cashing in.

Heavy Booking

Teri Henry, director of sales, credited pent-up demand for the fact that the center has been booked up for the first six months of this year. That includes the Democratic State Convention on March 17-21. “And we’ve also sold out from January through March of 1989.”

HNTB of Los Angeles designed the building, constructed by McDivitt & Street of Dallas, to seat 435 people in a lecture hall and 59 to 274 persons in 11 additional meeting rooms. There are 60,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, which the city is already planning to double, and an additional 60,000 square feet that can be used outdoors. A few steps away is the Wyndham’s 12,900-square-foot ballroom.

Two years ago, the city’s 19-year-old “P. S. I Love You” campaign was replaced by the slogan “Palm Springs, More to Love” with the idea that the town, known for years as a sleepy retreat for celebrities and retirees, was becoming a convention and tourism capital.

The convention center is a step in that direction.