American Hockey League (AHL) President and Chief Executive Officer David Andrews announced on September 30, 2019 that the AHL Board of Governors had awarded an expansion franchise to NHL Seattle and the Oak View Group. The announcement stated that the AHL’s 32nd team will be located in Palm Springs, Calif., and will begin play as the primary development affiliate of the NHL’s expansion Seattle franchise in the fall of 2021. The new franchise in Palm Springs was also to include a new 10,000 seat arena in downtown Palm Springs, but that arena is now in question.
According to ‘NHL to Seattle’, the groundbreaking celebration was set for February 18th. Free tickets had been distributed and presumably ceremonial shovels were acquired for various photo ops as the excitement for a new hockey arena in Palm Springs was building.
Five days prior to the event, it was cancelled.
The arena in question is a joint operation between Oak View Group and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, costing $250 million to result in a 10,000 seat facility to house NHL Seattle’s American Hockey League affiliate. Construction was set to start in February and the arena was to be finished in time for the beginning of the 2021-2022 AHL Season.
The reason given for the delay of the breaking ground event was “extenuating circumstances” and an apology for any inconvenience was offered by tribal officials. The delay hardly seemed like anything to worry about at the time. Arena deals are complicated and surely there were details to iron out between the tribe and Oak View Group.
Around that same time, city officials were trying to solidify a comprehensive plan for parking to accommodate future visitors at the 10,000-seat arena, a subject that has been sometimes contentious for Palm Springs residents who live near the planned development and fear increased traffic and limited parking availability.
Another potential issue has centered around additional public safety costs associated with arena events. Palm Springs’ fire and police departments said last December that they would need nearly $20 million for new equipment and facilities, plus an additional $3.6 million annually to increase staff.
In June, OVG’s Tim Leiweke told the Desert Sun that the project was on hold due to the COVID-19 disease that has forced many events and projects into delay.
“Once we get past (the virus) we’ll make a decision if we’re gonna proceed,” Leiweke he told the Sun without any specifics on when they would reevaluate.
According to the Desert Sun, right before California imposed stay-at-home orders across the state in March, local officials were trying to iron out the many details of the proposed arena. But as the coronavirus pandemic swept across the country, and arena discussions have taken a back seat.
When asked whether the project was currently on hold or if the tribe was actively working on arena plans, Agua Caliente spokeswoman Kate Anderson said: “It would be accurate to say there are no new updates.”
Palm Springs Assistant City Manager Marcus Fuller said whether or not the project moves forward is “really up to the tribe.”
“This is really a tribal project on their property, with Oak View Group as their partner,” he said. “It’s not really a city project.”
It’s safe to say the new Palm Springs arena is in doubt, and making a 2021 opening night is seriously in question. For the expansion team in Seattle, there are other options, which are likely being assessed at this time.
By Jon Sorensen