PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- Entrepre-neurs are buying up window properties in this area's eight resort communities, remodeling them and turning them into eye-catching showcase hotels.

"They are buying up properties from the 1930s and 1940s and remodeling them in a retro-hip fashion -- and they are knockouts," said a spokesman for the Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention and Visitors Authority.

The architectural style is called "mid-century modern," and the stylish remodels have helped make Palm Springs and its neighboring communities chic and popular, particularly among the Hollywood crowd, he said.

Palm Springs' Orbit In, one of the most popular of the "mid-century" modern remodels, opened a sister property this winter. Called A Hideaway, it contains only eight rooms, all furnished in mid-century furniture, with poolside patios, DSL Internet access and original tile baths.

The name of the property is derived from a 1948 article in the Architectural Record that called the hotel -- then known as the Town and Desert -- "a California hideaway designed as a get-away-from-it-all in elegant Palm Springs."

There also is much remodeling activity among the larger destination resorts.

The Hyatt Grand Champions Resort & Spa in Indian Wells completed a $65 million project in January that included the addition of 139 rooms and the renovation of the rest of its 338 rooms.

The new rooms, all with terraces or balconies, have views of the Santa Rosa mountains.

The project also involved the construction of a 30,000-square-foot spa, surrounded by a lake and offering 18 treatment rooms, a salon, a fitness center, plunge pools and an aerobics area.

New landscaping, featuring dozens of palm trees and lagoons, was added, surrounding three new tennis courts and a seventh swimming pool (the resort already had six).

The new pool has 16 private cabanas, each with a telephone, a refrigerator, a TV, a data port, ceiling fans and a misting system.

Also added was a 50,000-square-foot conference facility on the lake of the 18th green at the Golf Resort at Indian Wells. The facility has prefunction space overlooking the green and a 20,000-square-foot ballroom.

The property now has a total of 88,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meetings space. There also is a new wedding gazebo overlooking the golf course.

The outdoor pavilion at the Estrella Hotel overlooks the San Jacinto Mountains. Meanwhile, in Palm Springs, Estrella, a 1930s hotel that was remodeled in 2001 and 2002, opened a spa and a restaurant, Citron, which offers a California-French menu.

The design for both is Hollywood Regency-style, popular during the 1930s and 1940s, sporting cool colors: persimmon-colored doors and rooms decorated in white, black and lemon yellow.

The spa, with 10 indoor and outdoor treatment rooms, also is home to the hotel's new fitness center. The facility will offer weeklong yoga retreats and multiday tai chi and Pilates programs.

This fall, the hotel expects to complete an expansion of its conference room to 1,200 square feet, to accommodate meetings of up to 75 people.

The Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa in Indian Wells also completed an expansion and renovation last fall and winter.

The project included renovation of all 560 rooms, including 22 suites.

The main addition to the resort was a 13,000-square-foot, full-service spa and fitness center with 19 indoor and outdoor treatment rooms, a salon, gardens and hydrotherapy waterfall Jacuzzis.

In December, the resort opened a 16,800-square-foot ballroom with views of the Santa Rosa Mountains.

Area's fast start fueled by drive market

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- The eight desert communities that make up the Palm Springs area are expecting travelers arriving by car to keep hotels bustling this year.

"We've done well, and it's primarily because of the drive market from northern and southern California," said a spokesman for the Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention and Visitors Authority.

In 2002, receipts from local Transient Occupancy Taxes collected at area hotels were down by 3% from 2001, a relatively small drop compared with other California destinations, the spokesman said.

"We were expecting a drop of 14% last year," he said.

Besides Palm Springs, the resort towns comprise Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, Indio, La Quinta, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage.

Thus far, hotels in the eight towns are reporting a strong peak season (January through April). About 60% of the hotel taxes are collected during the first four months of the year.

But it was not only the drive market that helped the tourism industry this winter.

Nonstop Delta air service between Atlanta and Palm Springs, which started in December, provided a boost. That seasonal service ends April 30.

The tourism industry here is optimistic about the rest of 2003, the spokesman said. Travelers are looking at short getaways within a day's drive -- again giving the California desert an edge, he said.

To fuel low-season travel, the authority is resuming its Chill Out summer packages program.

Last year, the authority led its first drive to encourage area hotels to create packages for the summer season; the response was so "overwhelming" that the program was extended through September, the spokesman said.

The result was the Chill Out program of 60 packages, which were combined in one brochure. A direct-mail piece was sent to 50,000 households.

Hotels, again led by the authority, are planning packages and promotional campaigns around a second Chill Out program this summer. Packages are expected to be ready later this month.

Also helping keep Palm Springs tourism healthy are events that draw thousands to the desert. Among them are the Palm Springs International Film Festival; the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and Nabisco Championship golf tournaments; and the annual White Party, a gay and lesbian event.

For information, contact the authority at www.palmspringsusa.com. -- L.D.R.

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