Palm Springs' Downtown PS redevelopment to get underway

Palm Springs, already in the midst of a long-overdue makeover, is now scrapping an empty downtown shopping mall along once-fashionable Palm Canyon Drive, reopening some closed streets and preparing to showcase the start of its Downtown PS redevelopment.

After losing its mid-century luster and enduring decades as a second-tier tourist destination, the desert city of nearly 46,000 is building again. Its target: to attract visitors to Palms Springs' burgeoning night life, art scene and retro-cool culture, supporters say.

"There's been a changing of the guard," said commercial real estate broker Mark Spohn of Sperry Van Ness. "It's more of a hip and edgy city as opposed to the rest of the Coachella Valley, which is more establishment."

Bids to cash in on this shift are already underway. In February multimillion-dollar plans were announced to turn a downtown inn into an outpost of youth-oriented Hard Rock Hotels. One of L.A.'s largest developers paid $15 million last year for a 57-room downtown hotel that was once a getaway for Hollywood luminaries including Clark Gable, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and Ronald Reagan.

Now Desert Fashion Plaza, which has been closed for more than a decade despite its prime location, is being razed to pay for a $300-million redevelopment project partially underwritten by a voter-approved increase in a local sales tax.

Anchoring the first phase of the sprawling project called Downtown PS will be a 190-room inn operated by Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, the developers announced. When completed in 2015, it will be the first new four-star hotel built from the ground up in Palm Springs in more than 20 years.

The project marks a milestone in the comeback of Palm Springs as a resort destination that may have last peaked in the 1960s. The city fell out of favor in the 1980s and 1990s as new development in other Coachella Valley cities such as Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage lured away travelers, golfers and year-round residents.

Palm Springs is reemerging as a "semi-urban" resort destination, hotel consultant Bruce Baltin of PKF Consulting said, attracting younger visitors as it moves beyond its dated image as a staid haven for retirees.

San Francisco-based Kimpton favors highly designed, stylized hotels with chef-driven restaurants intended to appeal to local residents as well as travelers. The yet-unnamed hotel will be part of a larger project that will house seven restaurants and 100 apartments and condominiums served by the hotel, along with 150,000 square feet of retail space for rent.

The six-story hotel will have a rooftop bar and pool. Kimpton will operate the hotel for Wessman Development Co., which is building the project, President John Wessman said.

As part of the downtown project, Belardo and Andres roads, parts of which had been blocked by Desert Fashion Plaza, will be reopened. A new street will be built to connect Palm Canyon Drive with the Palm Springs Art Museum.

Large chain stores abandoned downtown Palm Springs when it lost its edge and many other, smaller retailers have struggled to prosper. The developers hope that the marriage of stores and hotels at Downtown PS will be complementary and boost other downtown merchants.

"The retail sector is not recovering as fast as some people would like to see, and the hotel-retail mix use concept supports both uses," Wessman said. Some tenants are expected to be announced this summer.

Playa Vista office complex is sold

An office complex in Playa Vista that hit the market during the economic downturn and was once short of occupants has been sold for $218 million after reaching nearly full occupancy.

The four-building Campus at Playa Vista was built in 2009 by developers who hoped to attract fledgling technology and entertainment firms looking for digs on the Westside.

The planned Playa Vista community near Marina del Rey emerged as a lower-rent alternative to pricey Santa Monica and became part of what some real estate brokers like to call the "Lower Westside."

Playa Vista is being built on land that was once the headquarters of business mogul Howard Hughes' aviation empire and included an airfield. It now has about 6,500 residents and several office buildings. A commercial district with stores, restaurants and theaters is under construction.

A subsidiary of Houston commercial real estate landlord Hines bought the Campus at Playa Vista from its developer, Tishman Speyer. Tenants include four sizable technology tenants: Facebook Inc., Belkin International Inc., USC's Institute for Creative Technology and the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, the company that oversees Internet domain names.

The four-story office buildings on East Waterfront Drive near the intersection of Jefferson Boulevard and Centinela Avenue contain 324,944 square feet and are connected by private, landscaped terraces on the second floor.

"The Lower West L.A. submarket," Hines Managing Director Doug Metzler said, "is one of the most attractive office markets on the West Coast."

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