Visit Greater Palm Springs, the tourism marketing agency for the Coachella Valley, is the latest government entity to apply public pressure on the College of the Desert to maintain plans to build a hospitality campus and learning hotel in Palm Springs.
*-The agency’s president and CEO, Scott White, says he notified COD Superintendent/President Martha Garcia and COD Board Chair Ruben Perez last week and again on Wednesday that Visit Greater Palm Springs plans to run a series of ads in The Desert Sun to share its perspective on why the Coachella Valley needs a hospitality campus and learning hotel.
The first of the ads, a public letter addressed to Garcia and the college's Board of Trustees, is set to run in this newspaper’s Thursday print edition, according to White.
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 Board of Trustees Chair Ruben Perez.
White says Manuel Perez and the other eight public officials are aware of the ad and approved its message.
Manuel Perez did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The other elected officials whose names appear on the letter are:
Indio Mayor Waymond Fermon
Palm Desert Mayor Jan Harnik
La Quinta Mayor Linda Evans
Cathedral City Mayor Ernesto Gutierrez
Desert Hot Springs Mayor Pro Tem Gary Gardner
Indian Wells Councilmember Greg Sanders
Rancho Mirage Councilmember Steve Downs
Palm Springs Councilmember Geoff Kors
Palm Springs officials have pressed COD to uphold its plans to build the campus on the site of the old Palm Springs Mall.
Status of learning hotel in limbo
Since Garcia assumed her post in August, she has stalled construction plans for COD’s proposed hospitality campus and learning hotel in Palm Springs — a decision that Ruben Perez has supported.
In December, COD’s lead industry consultant on the learning hotel was dismissed and told his job had been eliminated.
In January, a bond lawyer told the COD board that the learning hotel could be an illegal use of bond funds depending upon the level of private benefit 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 by bond money approved by voters. The projected cost of the campus is around $345 million.
"It’s time for College of the Desert to take action, honor its commitment, and build the learning hotel, culinary arts program, and events center our hospitality industry and students were promised," the open letter reads.
It says the project is needed because the hospitality industry is the Coachella Valley's No. 1 economic driver and employer, creating more than 53,000 local jobs, and 45% of the hospitality workforce lives in the west valley cities of Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs and Cathedral City.
In the ad, White notes that Visit Greater Palm Springs will dedicate a full-time employee to educate high school students about the career opportunities in hospitality.
The ad says 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 their first year compared to non-managerial entry level jobs in the industry.
A recent opinion piece by Edward M. Tauber in The Desert Sun, who helped start the hospitality program at Cal State San Bernardino's Palm Desert campus, argued that the College of the Desert is right to reconsider its commitment to a hospitality campus in Palm Springs in part because enrollment in the hospitality program at COD has been low since the pandemic began.
According to a March COD board presentation, enrollment in the hospitality program stood at 109 students in spring 2022.
COD's fall 2021 enrollment was down by 16% compared to fall 2019, and enrollment is down at community colleges across the state.
White said many valley hotels are struggling to find employees, and some are recruiting from out of the area.
"We have workforce issues, you know, we have to educate and show the kids that are going into college and show them that what career opportunities exist in tourism," White said.
*-Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to Scott White as the executive director of Visit Greater Palm Springs.
Jonathan Horwitz covers education for The Desert Sun. Reach him at email@example.com or @Writes_Jonathan.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Palm Springs: Tourism agency urges COD to build campus, learning hotel