Oak View Group and the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation announced plans Wednesday to build a state-of-the-art sports and entertainment arena for Coachella Valley. The future home of the Seattle Kraken's American Hockey League franchise includes an adjacent training facility and community gathering spaces. The project, to be privately funded and erected on land owned by the foundation, will work with a change in the timeline of completion.
The announcement marks a new direction from a first concept presented in late 2019 that proposed an arena located on 16 acres of tribal land in downtown Palm Springs belonging to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, a federally recognized tribe. The new plan centrally locates the arena to make AHL games and a world-class lineup of musical acts and family entertainment more accessible to fans across the nine cities of Coachella Valley, including Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Desert Hot Springs, Indio and Coachella.
"The Berger Foundation has always seen the potential of this property," said Douglass A. Vance, vice president of real estate for the private foundation that has long generously supported educational and other charitable projects in the region. "We prepared the land many years ago for a project exactly like this arena and ancillary businesses and have since been actively seeking developers to create a world-class campus for the Coachella Valley and its visitors."
Ground-breaking and arena construction are scheduled for 2021. The project will be complete during the last quarter of 2022 with the Kraken's inaugural AHL Palm Springs franchise targeting to begin play in the 2022-23 season. Kraken general manager Ron Francis and assistant GM Ricky Olczyk are exploring all options for finding other competition options for a certain number of reserve players during the 2021-22 NHL season, including the possibility of sharing an AHL roster with another NHL team.
"We're excited the deal is done and Palm Springs will be our home for the AHL franchise," said Francis Tuesday. "We will be doing everything we need to do on the development front, from top to bottom, for the good of the organization. We will be engaged and in communication with every player in our organization."
Olczyk explained all 18- and 19-year-old players selected by the Kraken in the 2021 NHL Amateur Draft who don't make the NHL roster are required to return to their Tier A or Tier B junior hockey teams, NCAA college hockey teams or, in the case of European youngsters, respective teams in Sweden, Finland, Russia, Germany and several more nations on that continent. The rule encourages further development of young players' growing body and hockey skills.
"Only a handful of draftees make NHL rosters in a typical year," said Olczyk. "In fact, some seasons, you might even have a thumb or pinkie finger left after counting. It is extremely difficult to make the NHL roster [as a teen]. These are talented young players but for the most part they are not physically, emotionally or psychology mature enough to play against men who might be five, 10 or even 15 years older with stronger bodies and deep hockey skills and experience."
Olczyk said the Kraken hockey operations group will have "full control of developing all of our players" drafted or acquired in 2021 and beyond. He echoed Francis' enthusiasm for an anticipated best-of-AHL arena and state-of-the-art training complex.
That arena and complex will be located on 43-plus acres of land at Interstate 10 and Cook Street in Riverside County near the city of Palm Desert. The arena will be more than 300,000 square feet and feature 10,000-plus seats plus modern suites and premium hospitality clubs. The arena and adjacent facility will serve as a year-round community gathering space in addition to the training center for the AHL team and a future site for youth hockey, figure skating, adult skating and other community-friendly activities.
"After more than a year of good faith negotiations we were unable to finalize an agreement with the Agua Caliente tribal leaders for OVG to lease, develop and operate the privately funded arena," said Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group. "We appreciate the ongoing support and encouragement from the community and are very pleased to be partnering with the Berger Foundation who share our vision for creating a world-class venue for the Coachella Valley and what will be one of the most premier music and professional sports arenas in the world."
"On behalf of David Bonderman and our ownership group we are excited to share this vision of a championship AHL franchise in a spectacular arena in one of the most beautiful communities," said Tod Leiweke, Kraken CEO. "This new arena will offer a great game day experience from parking to puck drop. We will engage our fans in the Valley starting with the Kraken's launch in 2021 as we sequentially build toward the launch of our AHL franchise."
The Coachella Valley's remaining ice rink, the Desert Castle in Cathedral City, closed its doors in March with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic after 10 years of operation. The new facility will be a welcome option for area figure skaters to continue to train for high-level competition, along with youth hockey players who currently travel extensively to compete. It's one of many reasons why Riverside County officials are thrilled at Wednesday's announcement.
"We look forward to working with all stakeholders in doing everything possible at the county level to be helpful and supportive," said V. Manuel Perez, Riverside County supervisor for the Fourth District, which covers the nine cities of Coachella Valley plus Blythe. "Along with county staff from the Transportation & Land Management Agency, my office has been in discussions with the visionaries of the project to bring world-class hockey to the region plus have a positive quality of life impact for the entire county."
One of the strong benefits of the Berger Foundation site is less travel time for all Valley residents who desire seeing an AHL game, the strong lineup of performers that will be entertaining at the 10,000-seat arena, participate in youth programs or see a family entertainment show. Music plans feature not only concerts but for some bands to use the facility for pre-national tour rehearsals and residencies, which will include multiple appearances at the new arena.
"As a local La Quinta resident, I am excited about having a world-class arena built," said Irving Azoff, co-founder of Oak View Group and a long-time manager of dozens of the world's top musicians and bands. "The venue will be a major must-play destination for top talent and be the ultimate fan-friendly showcase for both valley's sports and entertainment attendees."
Live Nation, the world's leading live entertainment company, will work as a strategic partner and supply the Valley's new arena with its large stable of top touring artists and premium live events.
"We're proud to work with Oak View Group and the Berger Foundation on what will no doubt be an amazing venue," said Bob Rouz, president of Live Nation, U.S. concerts. "This new arena creates the opportunity for the whole region to enjoy incredible concerts and our entire touring team is truly excited and looking forward to delivering a significant calendar of annual concert events."
In addition to sports and entertainment, the arena will accommodate conventions, large meetings, international events, award shows and exhibitions at no risk to Riverside County taxpayers. Construction of the new arena is expected to create hundreds of permanent and temporary jobs for the community.
For season ticket and club seat information about the AHL Palm Springs franchise, hockey arena fans can visit www.ahlpalmsprings.com and www.palmspringsarena.com.