By far the biggest splash in this season's Southland desert scene was the opening of a spacious, water-oriented Marriott Hotel in Palm Desert.
Even for the most blase residents, accustomed to flashy openings of endless golf and tennis facilities and residential complexes and hotels, the debut of the chain's Hawaiian-like Desert Springs Resort and Spa was a major attraction.
So much so that the hotel management arranged for guided tours for curious locals--along with other visitors and guests--to check out the desert's newest hotel, even as its staff was eliminating the inevitable last-minute bugs and wrinkles.
It was a splash heard throughout the Coachella Valley.
You might say the 892-room hotel is an island surrounded by a watery golf course. Inside its sparkling, eight-level high lobby, two cascading waterfalls surround a landing where motorized gondolas await to take guests skimming through waterways and mini-lakes.
But aside from all the trappings of an opening, Marriott Corp. is looking into new fields of operations.
For the first time, the Washington, D.C.-based operator is entering the arena of residential land development around its golf facilities, to appeal to the wealthy segment of second-home buyers and, aware of the nation's growing number of aging citizens, it has begun life-care facilities programs in Virginia and Pennsylvania, and plans its third such unit in California.
Its prototype for estate living is scheduled for construction on a 34-lot parcel, Desert Springs Estates, surrounded by a Ted Robinson-designed golf course.
The model homes there are designed by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation of Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Ariz. "to establish the level and character of the development."
The home sites will range from $220,000 to $540,000, depending on size, elevation and views, and plans call for homes of 3,600 to 4,300 square feet.
While this effort is a first for Marriott, it has carried out two earlier residential ventures: selling 423 resort condominiums at fashionable Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Ariz., between 1972 and 1975, for $23 million, and 200 suites in New York's Essex House, converted and sold as condominiums for $26 million before selling the property to Japan's Nikko Hotels in 1985.
J. W. Marriott Jr., the low-keyed president and chief executive officer of the corporation, checked out progress and status at the hotel chain's new star last Monday during a quick visit and an interview.
He said the organization will be spending about $800 million this year and next in its California operations.
Mindful of tax reform's allowances of tax and mortgage interest deductibility on second homes and the increasingly large segment of the aging population, the executive said the hotel organization is broadening its real estate activities to capitalize in those two areas.
In addition to its new estates-home enclave at the Palm Desert site, his organization is presently pre-marketing a 320-unit life-care facility in San Ramon, Calif., and already has accepted reservations for 40 units.
The life-care program is a 90% refundable endowment fee arrangement, with monthly service fees scheduled to cover maintenance, a daily meal, weekly maid service, transportation and nursing care at below-market prices.
Future projects are planned in La Jolla, Palos Verdes, Laguna Niguel and Pasadena.
Ground breaking during the next 60 days for two life-care facilities in Fort Belvoir, Va., and Haverford, Pa., will launch that program. Already 50% pre-sold, each project contains more than 300 units of one- and two-bedroom configurations with "assisted living units and nursing homes to round out the facilities," Marriott reported.
Explaining the organization's more prosaic plans and expenditures, Marriott outlined the $800-million expansion program. It will provide for full service hotels, ranging in size from 250 to 395 rooms at Long Beach Airport, Century City, San Ramon, Cupertino and in San Diego's downtown and its Mission Valley, and a 1,500-room San Francisco hotel, opposite the Moscone Convention Center.
Its Courtyard division will build 150 hotels, in two-to-four-story buildings, that will dot the California countryside with room rates pegged between $45 and $65 for singles.
Seven such hotels are already in operation, four others will open this year, and five more in 1988, including one in Palm Springs. Over a five-year span, the chain plans to open 30 Courtyard properties, Marriott said.
Another division, Suite Hotels, has only an Atlanta unit in operation. These hotels are residential in design. The next two are planned for construction in 1988 in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, Marriott said, and 40 are projected to open within the next five years.
Concerning the shiny new Palm Desert hotel, picky visitors and a reporter have two suggestions.
Add a bubble-type outside elevator somewhere along the west wing of the sprawling hotel configuration because the hotel's rooms there, facing the ninth hole, are a very long walk from the main elevator core. Ask the toiling bellmen, too.
The second suggestion is probably much easier to provide. Any chance of sneaking in another restaurant, maybe a coffee shop, fast-food place like a Bob's Big Boy? Marriott owns that chain.