Tourism agency urges COD to build learning campus and hotel

Visit Greater Palm Springs, the Coachella Valley’s tourism marketing agency, is the latest government entity to put public pressure on College of the Desert to stick with plans to build a hotel campus and a learning hotel in Palm Springs.

*-Agency President and CEO Scott White said he briefed COD Superintendent/President Martha Garcia and COD Chairman of the Board Ruben Perez last week and again Wednesday that Visit Greater Palm Springs planned to run a series of ads in The Desert Sun to share its perspective on why the Coachella Valley needs a hotel campus and learning hotel.

The first of the advertisements, a public letter addressed to Garcia and the college board, is expected to appear in the Thursday print edition of that newspaper, according to White.

Visit Greater Palm Springs is writing an open letter to Desert College President Martha Garcia and the Board of Trustees urging the college to move forward with plans for a learning hotel in Palm Springs.  The agency says the announcement will be published in The Desert Sun newspaper on Thursday, April 7, 2022.

The open letter is accompanied by the printed names of nine elected officials, including Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez. Perez is the father of COD Chairman of the Board, Ruben Perez.

White says Manuel Perez and the eight other officials are aware of the announcement and approved of his message.

Manuel Perez did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The other elected officials whose names appear on the letter are:

  • Mayor of Indio Waymond Fermon
  • Jan Harnik, Mayor of Palm Desert
  • Mayor of La Quinta Linda Evans
  • Mayor of the Cathedral City Ernesto Gutierrez
  • Gary Gardner, Mayor of Desert Hot Springs
  • Indian Wells Council Member Greg Sanders
  • Rancho Mirage Board Member Steve Downs
  • Palm Springs Council Member Geoff Kors

Palm Springs officials have urged COD to stick with its plans to build the campus on the site of the former Palm Springs Mall.

Learning hotel status in limbo

Since Garcia took office in August, she has blocked COD’s proposed hotel campus and learning hotel construction plans in Palm Springs — a move Ruben Perez has backed.

In December, COD’s lead industry consultant on the apprenticeship hotel was fired and told that his position had been cut.

In January, a bond lawyer told COD’s board that the Learning Hotel could be an illegal use of bond funds depending on the level of private profit from the project; however, he also did not have enough information to make a legal consideration at that time.

The open letter urges COD to move forward with the project, which is to be funded through voter-approved bonds. The projected cost of the campus is approximately $345 million.

“It is time for College of the Desert to take action, honor its commitment and build the learning hotel, culinary arts program and event center promised to our hospitality industry and our students” , indicates the open letter.

He says the project is necessary because the hospitality industry is the economic engine and #1 employer in the Coachella Valley, creating more than 53,000 local jobs, and 45% of the hospitality workforce lives in the western valley towns of Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs and Cathedral City.

In the announcement, White notes that Visit Greater Palm Springs will dedicate a full-time employee to educating high school students about career opportunities in hospitality.

The announcement states that graduates of the hospitality program can expect to be competitive candidates for entry-level management positions that pay $10,000 to $12,000 more in the first year compared to jobs in non-managerial entry level in the industry.

A recent opinion piece by Edward M. Tauber in The Desert Sun, who helped launch Cal State San Bernardino’s Palm Desert Campus Host Program, argued that the College of the Desert is right. to reconsider its commitment to a host campus in Palm Springs in part because enrollment in the COD host program has been low since the start of the pandemic.

According to a March 2022 COD board presentation, enrollment in the home program stood at 109 students in the spring of 2022.

COD’s fall 2021 enrollment is down 16% from fall 2019, and enrollment is down at community colleges across the state.

White said many hotels in the valley are struggling to find employees and some are recruiting from outside the region.

“We have labor issues, you know, we have to educate and show kids going to college and show them what career opportunities exist in tourism,” White said.

*-Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to Scott White as Executive Director of Visit Greater Palm Springs.

Jonathan Horwitz covers education for The Desert Sun. Contact him at [email protected] or @Writes_Jonathan.

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