Local business leaders share bright outlook

Apfelbaum, Sharon

Wc asked some of our favorite in-the-know business folks to make predictions about the economy in the year 2002 What surprised us was the general mood of optimism in the local business and development community.

Diane Matzner, who owns three retail shops in downtown Palm Springs, says, “We had our second highest sales day at Mosaic on the 24th of December. In November two of our three stores (Mosaic, Mariposa and Aristokatz) hit their sales goal of a 30 percent increase over last year.

Palm Springs Tourism’s change in advertising direction helped a lot. Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the agency consciously redirected its advertising dollars toward one group: the Southern California ‘drive’ market. It worked. Billboards and radio ads on the coast have paid off. Our business has been filled with the drive market which more than made up for what we lost in international visitors,” revealed Matzner.

Bryant Francis, an- service development coordinator for the Palm Springs International Airport, was equally upbeat. “I predict the airport will experience a banner year in 2002. Our ongoing discussions with current air carriers and with potential new ones lead me to say that, even if we’re only moderately successful, we’ll still break records adding new services.”

Restaurateur Ric Service, owner with wife Patty of the popular Las Casuelas Terraza, uses similar words: “I’m expecting Palm Springs to have a banner year in 2002, and the hospitality industry will lead the way. People will need lots of rest. They will travel to the desert, not to Hawaii.”

Convention and Visitors Authority executive director Mike Fife added, “The economy had already felt a pinch and things were slower than anticipated prior to September 11 . October and November proved to be two of the Coachella Valley’s worst months in about the last ten years. Hoteliers were predicting a twelve percent decline overall.

“Now things look different. We have started to see more future bookings and what seems like a genuine turnaround. Based on the improved December numbers, hospitality folks are predicting that twelve percent is a worst-case scenario. And when the direction changes, we’re ready,” concluded Fife.

Realtor Lois Carter agrees. “I think we’ll have a good season. The Baby Boomers are still coming onstream. People will vacation where they can drive, which means the desert. The general feeling in our Classic Homes office is optimistic.”

City Manager Patrick Pratt says Rancho Mirage is basking in its surfeit of new development. A city with three resort hotels – Westin Mission Hills, The Lodge (formerly the Ritz Carlton) and Marriott’s Rancho Las Palmas – Rancho Mirage now boasts 39 restaurants, with another half dozen on the drawing board. The River, a newly opened mixed use development, represents a $50 million investment by the Snyder Company.

“Financially, it looks like a stronger quarter coming up,” says Pratt. Slowing is not the long term trend. There won’t be any prolonged down cycle here.”

Wearing both his hats, rancher-realtor Paul Ames predicts, “Agriculture: mixed. It will be a fine year for lemons, tangerines and Valencia oranges. Real estate: great. I’ve never had as much fun as I’m having today in real estate in the green end of the Coachella Valley. There are good projects, good sellers and good buyers.”

Dick Oliphant shares his optimism. “2002 will be another good year. I see a recovery in the hospitality industry. Housing will maintain its steady pace, driven by low interest rates.

“Our Coachella Valley market is so diverse now, with a full range of employment opportunities and myriad housing, with a population over 300,000 and growing, we stand a good chance of missing the downturn bullet now piercing the rest of California,” predicted the longtime local developer.

A slightly less positive Robert Brock, longtime CPA with Lund & Guttry, wears no rose-colored glasses. “Although we see the commercial and residential real estate boom on every comer, most of these projects were launched at least 12 months ago. Not much of any significance is getting underway today.

“Historically, the desert has been the last place to feel economic downturns, and the current national recession is no exception. What helps salve any slowdown here is our affluent and economically active senior/retirement population, along with visitors spending their leisure dollars here,” concluded Brock.

The city of Desert Hot Springs, unable to come up with the enormous payment required by a decade-old lawsuit involving the Silver Sage mobile home development, declared bankruptcy earlier this month.

Mayor Matt Weyuker makes this prediction: “Our declaration of bankruptcy will help lift the Silver Sage lawsuit cloud that has been hanging over our heads for the last decade. In spite of what may appear to be, greater things are ahead for the city of Desert Hot Springs. The next year will bring a whole new wave of growth and prosperity that our city has never before experienced, surmises the hard working mayor.

Finally, former Desert Water Agency executive director and dedicated domino player Jack Oberle forecasts with a metaphor: “Dominoes 2002 is the only way you can’t lose. Economic recovery is eminent in 2002.”

And that surely articulates what local financial leaders are thinking.

Copyright Desert Publication, Inc. and Sharon Apfelbaum Jan 04, 2002

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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