The Riviera hotel sits on the corner of Indian Canyon Drive and Vista Chino. The hotel opened in 1959. (Photo: Vickie Connor/The Desert Sun)

The Riviera, a Palm Springs hotel that once was a choice hangout for members of the Rat Pack, is being transformed into a Margaritaville resort.

The historic property is set to open under the new concept in the fall, remaining closed for renovations until then.

The Margaritaville brand, inspired by singer Jimmy Buffett’s laid-back and beachy ethos, has more than 20 properties including locations in the U.S. and Mexico.

The Margaritaville Resort Palm Springs will be the first West Coast location for the hospitality brand, which Buffett partly owns and which also includes casinos and restaurants. Two properties in San Diego are planned for 2021.

While the coronavirus pandemic has upended leisure travel and the hospitality industry, officials with the Riviera’s new operating company, Davidson Hotels & Resorts, say they anticipate demand for a new spin on a storied property. Davidson operates more than 50 other properties and was brought in by the Riviera’s owner earlier this year.  

Balconies at the Riviera hotel are renovated on Wednesday, August 5, 2020. The hotel sits on the corner of Indian Canyon Drive and Vista Chino. It opened in 1959. (Photo: Vickie Connor/The Desert Sun)

“Palm Springs is such a great area, and our core purpose is to create fun and escapism, said Mark Rogers, the senior vice president of hospitality and international operations with Margaritaville. “It really met the DNA of what we look for in a resort.”

Rogers said Margaritaville resorts are best known for their food and beverage concepts. 

“That’s the biggest asset we bring, and we change the whole dynamic,” he said.

The Palm Springs property will have multiple dining options, including bars with on-brand names like 5 O’Clock Somewhere, Lone Palm and License to Chill. There will also be a new restaurant concept, JWB Grille, which is named for “James (Jimmy) William Buffett.”

Buffett rose to fame as a musician in the 1970s known for his island-inspired music, including “Margaritaville,” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” His devoted fans are known as Parrotheads. This year, he released a new album: “Life on the Flip Side.”

The Margaritaville lifestyle brand started from a retail store in the 1980s and grew to a hospitality chain that spans continents. The brand also sponsors the Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships, which was slated to be held at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden this fall but has been canceled.

Margaritaville Resort Palm Springs, seen here in a rendering, is expected to open in the fall of 2020 after a new operating company took over The Riviera, a historic hotel in Palm Springs off Indian Canyon Drive that opened in 1959. (Photo: Davidson Hotels & Resorts)

A new concept for a historic property

Converting The Riviera to the Margaritaville Resort Palm Springs marks the first time in its 60-year history the 16-acre, 398-room property will go by another name.

Designed by Irwin Schuman, The Riviera opened in 1959 inthe spirit of Las Vegas resorts and became a hangout for Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Elvis Presley was also a guest; later, former Palm Springs mayor Sonny Bono opened a restaurant at the property, according to the hotel’s website. 

General manager Matt Huss said the Margaritaville concept has loyal fans who will head to the new resort. He started here in February, just 22 days before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered their operations, andhas worked at different Davidson properties for 15 years in Atlanta, San Diego and Memphis.

He said the new concept will bring “a different state of mind” to a property that had a darker, retro vibe. 

“What they’re looking to do here is really transform this resort, and the experience, into something really unique,” Huss said. 

The renovations from McBride Design will use natural tropical tones. All guest rooms, plus hallways and landscapes, are being renovated. The poolside will have tiki-inspired cabanas. The company would not discuss a cost for the renovations. 

This management change and rebrand aren’t the first time the Riviera has undergone changes, including a $70 million renovation around the time of the 2008 Great Recession.

Then in 2015, a company called Tribune Portfolio took over management and began plans to renovate. In 2017, they unveiled their new design that swapped the retro Vegas-style design for a more natural color palette and modern approach. 

Late last year, The Riviera went to the city to propose to convert 163 rooms into time shares. But Rogers and Huss said those plans have been shelved for now, and they aim to operate as a standard hotel for the time being. 

The Riviera hotel sits on the corner of Indian Canyon Drive and Vista Chino. The hotel opened in 1959. (Photo: Vickie Connor/The Desert Sun)

Pandemic-era planning

The rebranding plans were already underway before the pandemic hit. Initially, the property was going to stay open during the summer off season while undergoing renovations.

But the spring closure of hotels and the general shutdown of leisure travel allowed the team to move up the timeline, and they’ve chosen to stay closed while completing the work, Huss said. 

The closure of the hotel means most of its employees are out of work. But when it’s ready to open, Margaritaville will staff up based on demand, Huss said.

It’s unclear what fall and winter bookings will look like in Palm Springs, with travel and tourism significantly impacted by the rampant spread of the coronavirus. Many people are afraid to travel, with tourism marketing firm Destination Analysts saying on Monday that about half of American travelers don’t have leisure trips planned for 2020.

For the week of July 19-25, hotel occupancy nationwide was 48.1%, compared with 86% the same week in2019, according to hospitality date group STR.


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In California, conferences and conventions are still not permitted under state guidelines, and that type of business typically fills up a large portion of Palm Springs hotel rooms during the fall and winter season. The Riviera has more than 40,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space. 

Still, Rogers from Margaritaville is bullish that they’ll still be able to run a profitable operation when it opens.

He said their brand has taken over other resorts that have struggled in the past and turned them around with their concept. He pointed to two other Margaritaville hotels that have opened up this year: a Margaritaville Resort in Lake Conroe, Texas, and a Compass by Margaritaville hotel in Bradenton, Fla., which is a new concept for the Margaritaville brand. 

“You can’t just throw your arms up,” Rogers said. “You’ve got to move forward, and we’re all hoping for better days in the future.”

Huss, the general manager, said the city of Palm Springs’ safety protocols and the destination’s location as a drive market from Los Angeles position it to weather the pandemic better than others.

“It’s no doubt that this is a difficult time for the hospitality industry, but from what I’ve seen, Palm Springs has done better than most markets across the county,” he said. 

Melissa Daniels covers local business, hospitality, and economic development in the Coachella Valley. Reach out at (760)-567-8458,, or on Twitter @melissamdaniels.

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