This blog begins a series of interviews with notable and interesting denizens of Palm Springs (of which there are many)! This week’s interview is with Amy Blaisdell, Communications Director for the City of Palm Springs.
Amy, I understand that you’re a proud native of Palm Springs! Have you always lived in the Palm Springs area?
Amy Blaisdell: I grew up in Rancho Mirage and attended St. Theresa School in Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage Elementary, Palm Springs and Palm Desert high schools. I received a B.A. in Communications from St. Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. and a Masters in Broadcast Journalism from San Francisco State University. I spent many years living in San Francisco working as a journalist at several local TV stations and other news organizations before I decided to move back to the Coachella Valley. However, one of my first jobs out of school was at KMIR-TV in Palm Springs!
What prompted your move back to Palm Springs from the Bay Area?
I was given the opportunity to open the bureau for City News Service in Palm Springs, an AP-style Los Angeles-based wire service that serves the majority of television, radio and online news operations in Southern California. I covered a wide variety of stories in the Coachella Valley, including criminal courts, local government, business, tourism, health, education and entertainment. Of course I was covering Palm Springs the most because we are the City with the most going on! When I was given the opportunity to work for the City of Palm Springs as Communications Director, I jumped at it! My father practiced law for many years on Palm Canyon Drive and I love Palm Springs! I have so many wonderful childhood memories of seeing films at the Plaza Movie Theatre, ice cream cones at Swensen’s on Palm Canyon, roaming the aisles at Uncle Don’s Toy Store, shopping at Desert Fashion Plaza, participating in the Desert Circus parade, riding at Smoketree Stables, tennis lessons at Ruth Hardy Park, and so much more! Yet what is most exciting for me is that the best is yet to come! Last November, Palm Springs residents passed Measure J, a 1 cent sales tax increase which will fund the Downtown Revitalization Plan and a host of improvement projects throughout the City over the next 25 years. In January, the City, Wessman Development and hundreds of our residents celebrated the demolition of the old B of A building on the corner of Tahquitz Canyon and Palm Canyon Drive, the first step in the Downtown Revitalization Plan – and as just about everyone knows, we now have the magnificent Seward Johnson-designed 26-foot tall sculpture “Forever Marilyn” in place where the bank once stood! The sculpture has been a great success with huge numbers of tourists in front of it daily snapping photos. Suffice it to say, I feel very fortunate to be Communications Director for the City of Palm Springs during this historic time in our city!
What do you think has changed the most about Palm Springs since you were a kid?
Palm Springs has always been a uniquely special destination thanks to our village atmosphere and magnificent mountain vistas! If there’s one thing that’s changed the most, it’s that we now have a host of hugely successful special events for our residents and visitors, including the world famous Palm Springs International Film Festival, the wildly popular Palm Springs Modernism Week, Tour de Palm Springs bike ride, the Palm Springs Festival of Lights Parade — and of course, Palm Springs VillageFest every Thursday night in downtown. When I was a kid, these did not exist – now residents and visitors come from all over the world specifically for these special events that can only be found in our city. In addition, the City’s downtown and uptown shopping and dining districts are flourishing thanks to a host of hip and sophisticated new eateries that have recently opened or expanded, including LULU California Bistro, Trio Restaurant, Birba, Encore, Kaiser Grille, Zin American Bistro and Sammy G’s. In fact, over the last several years Palm Springs has undergone a tremendous renaissance thanks to a resurgence of new chef-owned dining destinations along with a $180 million reinvestment in the City’s Hotel stock. Some of the City’s larger properties that have undergone major multi-million dollar renovations include the Riviera Resort and Spa, the Hyatt Regency, and the Hilton Palm Springs and the Spa Resort. In addition, the former Howard Johnson Inn was transformed into the trendy Ace Hotel & Swim Club–and of course the former Holiday Inn is now the fabulously hip Saguaro Hotel, featuring the popular new Basque-inspired restaurant Tinto, headed up by Top Chef’s Jose Garces. In fact, just open up a magazine like Vogue, Vanity Fair or Conde Nast Traveler and you’ll see Palm Springs prominently featured in loads of editorial and fashion shoots. We truly are the hippest and most happening destination in Southern California! Take a walk down Palm Canyon Drive and you’ll see that visitors abound and our shops, restaurants and hotels are packed with visitors from all over the world.
Describe a favorite day spent in Palm Springs.
I have had so many amazing days in Palm Springs, I can’t pick just one. I will say that for me the happiest day I can remember was when Mayor Steve Pougnet and developer John Wessman hopped on a bulldozer and began the initial demolition of the old B of A. It was a long time coming and an important milestone as the City began the initial phase of the Downtown Revitalization Plan. It was truly a joyous day in our city and it was awesome to see so many residents come out for this historic occasion! Other great days include the unveiling of “Forever Marilyn” and meeting Virgin Airline Founder Richard Branson when he arrived at Palm Springs International Airport with our Mayor to celebrate Virgin’s new service from PSP to San Francisco and New York’s Kennedy Airport. I also love spending the day looking at the amazing works of art at the Palm Springs Art Museum – and to get away from the heat, there’s no place better than atop the world famous Palm Springs Aerial Tramway–where the views of the valley floor are truly breathtaking!
As Communications Director for the City of Palm Springs, you serve as the official media spokesperson. Tell us a little about that.
It’s my job to keep the media and the public informed about upcoming events and the operations and policy of City government. I do that through distributing news releases to the media and talking with reporters as the City’s official spokesperson, updating the City’s Web site and managing the City’s community access channel, which broadcasts all City Council and Board and Commission meetings. In addition, I manage and promote a host of local marketing initiatives and City programs and events.
What upcoming Palm Springs area project or event are you most excited about?
There’s no doubt that I am most excited about the City’s upcoming 75th anniversary celebration, which is in April of 2013. The City will host several events throughout the year celebrating our world famous history and it will be a year to remember! Planning is under way – so stay tuned for more information. I’m also very excited about the upcoming 2013 Palm Springs International Film Festival and Black-tie Awards Gala. This special event brings our city so much tremendous publicity and the films shown during the festival are truly outstanding! Last year may have been the best Awards Gala ever with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain and many more walking the red carpet! There truly is no other event like it in the desert–or in Southern California for that matter! 2013 is sure to be another great year!
What is it that you most love about Palm Springs?
The people! In the City of Palm Springs, our motto is “The People are the City,” and it’s our residents, businesses, tourism and hospitality partners which make our city the success that it is today. We have a wonderfully active and engaged community who play an important role in our city and quality of life. Often times our residents and business owners come up with some of the most unique and creative ideas and solutions. Palm Springs is very fortunate to have such a spectacularly diverse and talented group of individuals living in our city; many willing to engage in their local government and lend a helping hand whenever needed. It’s the best part about working for the City of Palm Springs!
Amy Blaisdell, what are some of your favorite restaurants, retail stores and hot spots in Palm Springs?
Uptown is really hot right now! Cheeky’s, Birba, Trio, Jake’s are all fantastic! I also love the newly expanded Trina Turk—along with Wil Stiles, and the recently opened Raymond/Lawrence, a Fred Segal-style retail incubator which carries just about everything from cool threads to mod furniture , home décor and so much more! Modern Way is also a great spot to find vintage furniture and Tchotchke’s has very original gifts and knick knacks. In downtown, Encore has amazing Cajun food and there are so many other great spots like Blue Coyote, Rio Azul, Las Casuelas Terraza, (one of my family’s favorites as a kid) Kaiser Grille, Grind Brgr Bar, The Falls Steakhouse, Zin American Bistro, Pomme Frite, and of course the newly opened LULU California Bistro, on the corner of South Palm Canyon and Arenas. I also love Le Vallauris and Spencer’s Restaurant for special occasions – and Johnny Costa’s Ristorante and Riccio’s Steakhouse and Seafood are great for authentic Italian! There’s just so much to see and do in Palm Springs! If you love great food, film festivals, hiking in the canyons, and exploring mid-century modern architecture amidst a relaxed desert lifestyle–it truly is like no place else! We’re the hippest, most happening destination in Southern California!
Thanks for spending time with us, Amy! You certainly are a part of the magic that is Palm Springs!
If you or your organization would like to be interviewed for a Palm Springs Spotlight, please contact PalmSprings.com.