How the coronavirus forced Seattle’s AHL team out of downtown Palm Springs

by Kevin Nesgoda

When the coronavirus made its way to the U.S. earlier this year, it quickly became clear that its impacts would be felt far beyond 2020. That reality came to light again on Wednesday when it was announced that the Seattle Kraken’s AHL affiliate would be moving arena sites, delaying their inaugural season to 2022.

The new site is north of I-10 near the Coachella Valley Preserve, about 20 minutes southwest of the original site in downtown Palm Springs.

So what prompted the move? Back in March, when the coronavirus first hit the U.S., the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians were forced to shut down their casino properties in the area. Construction on the new arena was also paused, leading to several months of delays. The original arena was planned for a prime downtown location near the Agua Caliente Casino and the Palm Springs Convention Center.

In April, Agua Caliente came to Oak View Group and said that they could not commit to the project, citing a shift in “economic development priorities,” due to COVID. The tribe is currently working on a new casino in Cathedral City, seven miles southeast of Palm Springs, slated to open at the end of the year. They are also constructing a new cultural center in downtown Palm Springs.

Another roadblock of the downtown location were concerns surrounding parking and traffic. The original arena was to be built on a section of Agua Caliente tribal land that is mostly parking lots. Local residents offered some criticism about the site and the elimination of parking.

Rather than pull the plug on the Palm Springs Area, Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke remained committed to the area. That decision came in part due to the interest from local fans as about 2,500 season ticket deposits were received. Leiweke said that quite a few of those were club seats and that the group will be contacting fans today to discuss the plans, offering full refunds if requested.

Now, Oak View Group will be partnering with the H.N. & Frances C. Berger Foundation, a local nonprofit that owns the land where the new arena will be. Live Nation Entertainment also will remain as a partner, which will bring concerts and other live events to the arena. Construction of the arena will begin in 2021 and will be finished in the final quarter of 2022. Thanks to the open space, there will be plenty of on-site parking.

As for the team name? Don’t expect anything too related to the Pacific Northwest ties of the Kraken. Lieweke says that the brand has to represent the valley’s area, even if Palm Springs is no longer in the name.

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