Retail Begins to Bloom in Calif. Desert

After decades of being in Palm Springs' glitzy shadow, retailing in California's Coachella Valley is emerging from its underdog status.

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The Indio Fashion Mall.

Photo By WWD Staff

After decades of being in Palm Springs' glitzy shadow, retailing in California's Coachella Valley is emerging from its underdog status.

What began as a retail building boom in La Quinta, a city in the foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains about 20 miles southeast of Palm Springs, is extending into nearby desert communities such as Indio and Coachella, which are roughly 120 miles east of Los Angeles.

Retailers are playing catch-up with the changing demands of the entire Valley, once primarily a seasonal vacation and retirement mecca of nine cities whose permanent population — families drawn by more affordable housing — has swelled to about 430,000 people, including Palm Springs, which is a 35 percent increase since the 2000 census, according to Wheeler's Market Intelligence, a local marketing research firm.

These communities are rebranding themselves with fresher personas to help capture investment dollars. Indio's slogan is "Indio, the place to be!'' and Coachella's circular logo on the city Web site depicts a serene landscape with snow-capped mountains, a palm tree and a lake, along with grapes and lemons in a nod to its agricultural heritage.

"Places like Indio and Coachella will be able to change their image because significant change is going on in who lives there,'' said John Husing, economic consultant to the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership. "When communities go through that, they can go through a metamorphosis.''

Such change translates into rapid growth. In Indio, since 2004, for example, more than 5,150 residential units have been built in tract communities, mainly in north Indio, but some in the southern part of the city with prices ranging from $300,000 to as much as $2 million.

Real estate has helped fuel Indio's population explosion, which jumped 28 percent from 49,119 residents in 2000 to 76,896 residents in 2006, statistics show. Palm Springs' population in the same period increased 11.8 percent to 47,806 residents. While the heady days of real estate sales have subsided, the city is by no means suffering a hangover. Developers are still erecting more housing in Indio, such as the Hofmann Co., which is building the Plantation at Polo, south of Interstate 10, consisting of 770 homes, with the first phase ready for sale in February, priced from roughly $350,000 to $450,000.
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