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Riviera Palm Springs: Slip into the ’60s

Photos courtesy Riviera Palm Springs Resort and Spa

In 2008, the economy tanked just as an upstart of a television show called “Mad Men” hit its stride. Set in the late ’50s and early ’60s, the show won over viewers who were eager to leave the rocky present for a sleek and seemingly hipper past.

That was also the year that the Riviera Palm Springs reopened in Palm Springs, Calif., after a $70 million, down-to-the-studs renovation and expansion that added eye-popping pizzazz, 100 guest rooms and more meeting space.

In hindsight, the timing of the midcentury resort’s revival seems good and bad: good because the Riviera looks like a place Don Draper and gang would go to meet, woo and win clients and then clink drinks in celebration; bad because given the country’s fragile financial state, many steered clear of the frills that the new Riviera afforded.

The hip crowd moves in
Move five years forward. “Mad Men” continues to draw a wide audience, and now, the Riviera is winning over fans as well. And, as it did when it opened in 1959, the resort is attracting a hip, cool crowd, including the companies that choose to meet there.

Just a few months ago, it was the Deckers Outdoor Corp., maker of Ugg boots, parading the 2014 line of chunky footwear around the resort.

“The companies that search us out first are tech companies like Microsoft; the cosmetic companies and retailers that cater to the younger generation like Charlotte Russe, Gap and Old Navy,” said Patrick Connors, director of sales and marketing. “The young and hip stores have looked at us.”

In a way, the Riviera has gone back to its roots. During the ’60s and ’70s, Hollywood stars frequented the resort. Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Sammy Davis Jr. and Sonny and Cher were among the celebrities who hung out there.

In recent years, that star power has returned. Paris Hilton has been a guest. So has James Franco. Jay Z and Beyonce have performed at a fundraiser there.

Yet for all its glittery good looks, the resort is more interested in being a go-to destination for meetings. Owner Noble House, after buying out its partner in the resort in 2006, added significant meeting space. It also went nonunion. (Its partner had been a California union, which had made the Riviera a favored meeting destination for union groups.)

Upgrades made at the resort earlier this year show how serious it is about meetings. The Riviera converted seven large guest rooms to executive meeting suites. Each will accommodate 30 to 50 people, depending on setup, and each has a patio.

“We were losing business from some of the pharmaceutical and medical groups that needed 15 breakouts for 20 people each,” said Connors.

Because of the new suites, the resort has already booked 12 meetings it would not have booked without them.

Other planned changes will make the Riviera’s meeting space more flexible. Soon, new air walls will be installed in the 19,670-square-foot grand ballroom, so it can be divided into four sections instead of the current three. Several gardens will be slightly reworked, with more lighting and other improvements so that they can be used for outdoor events.

And, in 2014, the resort might expand its Desert Conference area, which will give it more breakout spaces.

The ultimate goal is to move meetings from its current 40 percent of the resort’s business to 60 percent, said Connors.