What it’s like inside Palm Desert’s new $300 million dollar Acrisure Arena

“Welcome to the new Acrisure Arena,” Doobie Brothers vocalist-guitarist Tom Johnston shouted to the sold-0out crowd at the newly opened venue on Thursday night, Dec. 15

The 11,000-seat arena — located just off the I-10 Freeway between Cook and Washington streets in Thousand Palms, an unincorporated area in Palm Desert — is currently in its soft opening phase and kicked off its run on Wednesday evening with a sold-out comedy show featuring Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock.

“Where are we?” Chappelle joked as he began his performance on Wednesday, referencing the space sitting alone on over 43 acres of desert.

It’s the first large-scale arena to be constructed in the greater Palm Springs area, which is also home to massive global events such as the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival and Stagecoach Country Music Festival, The American Express PGA Tournament and The BNP Paribas Open tennis event. The 300,000-square foot venue cost $300 million and took nearly a year and a half to construct via a partnership between development and investment company Oak View Group, Seattle Kraken Hockey and live events promoter Live Nation.

  • Guests are served food and drink in the South Premium...

    Guests are served food and drink in the South Premium Club in the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Guests pose for photos by the huge Christmas tree outside...

    Guests pose for photos by the huge Christmas tree outside the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • The all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December...

    The all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Fans cheer as The Doobie Brothers take the stage to...

    Fans cheer as The Doobie Brothers take the stage to perform in the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • The view from Suite 2 in the all-new Acrisure Arena...

    The view from Suite 2 in the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Maps of the all-new Acrisure Arena are posted inside and...

    Maps of the all-new Acrisure Arena are posted inside and out to direct guests in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Chairman’s Club 29 has live music, drinks and food in...

    Chairman’s Club 29 has live music, drinks and food in the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Chairman’s Club 29 has live music, drinks and food in...

    Chairman’s Club 29 has live music, drinks and food in the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Guests are served food and drink in the Food Court...

    Guests are served food and drink in the Food Court in the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Part of Suite 2 in the all-new Acrisure Arena in...

    Part of Suite 2 in the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • One of the Grad and Go food and drink areas...

    One of the Grad and Go food and drink areas in the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • People serve themselves at the Big Chicken in the outside...

    People serve themselves at the Big Chicken in the outside courtyard at the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Guests pose for photos by the huge Christmas tree outside...

    Guests pose for photos by the huge Christmas tree outside the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • The all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December...

    The all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • People make their way through the halls in the all-new...

    People make their way through the halls in the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Coachella Valley Firebirds practice ice rink in the all-new Acrisure...

    Coachella Valley Firebirds practice ice rink in the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • The Doobie Brothers perform in the all-new Acrisure Arena which...

    The Doobie Brothers perform in the all-new Acrisure Arena which holds 11,000 guests in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • People serve themselves in the outside courtyard at the all-new...

    People serve themselves in the outside courtyard at the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Coachella Valley Firebirds locker room in the all-new Acrisure Arena...

    Coachella Valley Firebirds locker room in the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • People find their seats for before the Doobie Brothers perform...

    People find their seats for before the Doobie Brothers perform in the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • People serve themselves at food and drink areas in the...

    People serve themselves at food and drink areas in the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Coachella Valley Firebirds practice yoga on the wall outside the...

    Coachella Valley Firebirds practice yoga on the wall outside the locker room in the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • The all-new Acrisure Arena can hold 11,000 guests in Palm...

    The all-new Acrisure Arena can hold 11,000 guests in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • The Doobie Brothers perform in the all-new Acrisure Arena in...

    The Doobie Brothers perform in the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • The all-new Acrisure Arena can hold 11,000 guests in Palm...

    The all-new Acrisure Arena can hold 11,000 guests in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • The all-new Acrisure Arena can hold 11,000 guests in Palm...

    The all-new Acrisure Arena can hold 11,000 guests in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Milagro Tequila Bar in the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm...

    Milagro Tequila Bar in the all-new Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert on Thursday, December 15, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

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“Riverside County is one of the top 20 residential areas in the United States and it didn’t have an arena,” Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group, said following the official ribbon cutting at the venue on Wednesday. He also noted that he and his business partner, entertainment executive Irving Azoff, are both a part-time residents of the area, with homes located not too far from the new venue.

“It was shocking that there are tens of millions of people that live here, but they have no place to go for sports or entertainment and in particular, they didn’t have a professional sports franchise,” he continued. “We knew that economically, if we built it here in this marketplace with this demand and this large population, that we’d do extremely well and we’re already seeing that with what happened with our suites, club seats and our season tickets, which have all done well. People seemed to have forgotten how big and how important Riverside County is to Southern California. We already knew that.”

COMING SOON

The multi-use venue is also home to the American Hockey League’s Coachella Valley Firebirds, which is co-owned and operated by the NHL’s Seattle Kraken. On top of hosting 40-plus concerts and 30-plus family-friendly entertainment events each year, Acrisure Arena will present 36 Firebirds hockey games with space for up to 10,100 fans in the main bowl within the building and the team will practice in the connected Berger Foundation Iceplex. The 36,000-square foot Iceplex includes a 250-spectator seat NHL ice hockey rink that will be open to the public for special hockey and skating programs, tournaments, exhibition ice shows as well as private events like birthday parties, adult and junior hockey league play and more.

As the venue staff work out the building kinks and apply the finishing touches, there are several live performances scheduled before the official grand opening, which will be led by Los Angeles rock legends the Eagles playing “Hotel California” from front to back Feb. 24-25. There are multiple Firebirds games, a New Year’s Eve party with Maroon 5, the “Sesame Street Live! Make Your Magic” stage show Jan. 11-12, an evening with Pepe Aguilar on Jan. 15, the Professional Bull Riders: Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour on Feb. 10-11 and the Harlem Globetrotters interactive basketball skills show and game on Feb. 21.

Following the grand opening, acts such as Ana Gabriel, Ramón Ayala, Jimmy Buffett, Reba McEntire, Journey, Lizzo, Shania Twain and Paramore are all scheduled to perform in 2023.

“The people we work with, from the Doobies, Eagles, Jimmy Buffett, Maroon 5 and Lizzo, we manage all of those people, and they all decided to come and are excited because they knew that this was going to be a great-sounding building and there’s not a bad seat in the house,” Azoff said of enlisting the talent for the venue’s inaugural year. “It’s really the best 11,000 seats of any big arena and there’s incredible weather down there and I think people are going to want to come here. It’s not a natural stop, but I think we’re going to attract a lot of talent.”

Leiweke said he sees the venue as an opportunity for artists to rehearse or kick off their larger West Coast runs as they head into the Orange County and Los Angeles venues.

“Everyone always gets nervous of doing that first night in Los Angeles, so they can come here and rehearse and play and, by the way, it’s a great place to be,” he said. “They can play golf, there’s great restaurants, they can rehearse in the afternoon, do the first night of their tour and then move on to L.A.”

Aside from stimulating the local economy and bringing in big-name talent, Leiweke said that another vital aspect of Acrisure Arena is its commitment to sustainability. By the end of next year, the entire parking lot will be covered by solar panel canopies that will supply the venue with power and provide shade for guest vehicles during the warmer summer months. The venue is striving to be 100 percent carbon neutral by 2025.

“We’ll have our own solar panels to drive all of our own energy and all of our needs that we’ll have for electrical power, which will be amazing,” he said. “Our commitment is to be one of the most sustainable arenas anywhere in the country.”

WHAT’S IT LIKE

Acrisure Arena’s soft opening week wasn’t without a few snags. The traffic getting into the venue for the Rock/Chappelle show on Dec. 14 was a logistical nightmare, with vehicles funneled into just single lanes to get into the parking lots to snag one of the 3,000 on-site parking spots. Some fans reported on social media having to sit in the long line of glowing brake lights for over an hour; others were sent to an overflow lot that was quite the hike on an evening where temperatures dipped into the low 40s and the path to that lot was not well lit.

Things seemed to run a bit smoother inside.

Patrons grabbed their snacks and drinks and while ushers were still figuring out the lay of the land, the seated sections weren’t too difficult to find. Venue security was also put to the test, but rose to the occasion as a couple of random fights broke out during Chappelle’s set.

But the seasoned comic kept things calm as security, aided by local sheriff’s deputies, swiftly ejected those throwing punches or raising their voices. There was also a strict no cell phone policy in place for the comedy show and fans were asked to leave cell phones in their vehicles or lock them in Yodner pouches onsite. One brazen woman sitting in the front row was called out  by Chappelle for very nonchalantly filming him and he had her removed. He allowed her friend to stay, noting that she shouldn’t have her evening ruined while the scofflaw stood outside and “kicked rocks.”

The traffic situation was much more orderly for the Doobie Brothers’ turn the next evening. Additional traffic lanes were opened and a shuttle was provided for those who parked in the overflow lot and just about every usher carried a print out map of the arena so they were easily able to guide guests to their seats.

Like the evening prior, the sound was phenomenal and crisp and taking in these shows from various areas throughout the venue — the comedy show was done in the round and the concert was staged at the building’s west — there really wasn’t a bad vantage point.

The Doobie Brothers were all impressed by the space and its sound as the band took a tour and rehearsed in the building before the show.

“This is a beautiful, beautiful place and we’ve been hearing nothing but good things about it so were exited to now be experiencing it,” guitarist Patrick Simmons said while adding that it’s the very first time in 50 years that the band has ever been asked to help break in a new concert venue.

The band celebrated five decades worth of music on Thursday night and sprinkled in a few new songs off its latest album, “Liberté,” inducing the single, “Easy.” Mostly the members said they were grateful to just be back on the road and playing in front of live audiences.

“Since we’ve been back, the crowds have been fantastic,” Johnston said. “I think a lot of that is that people were locked down for two years and so when they came out, I think they came out with vengeance and its been absolutely great.”

FOOD, BEVERAGES & AMENITIES

There are plenty of premium amenities including 20 executive suites, two Founders’ suites, 737 club seats that have access to two full bars and four food service areas and two exterior balconies, and there’s the ultra exclusive, retro Palm Springs-themed Chairman’s Club 29. There are also so many restrooms — enough that we actually took notice on our tours as we walked passed numerous men’s, women’s, family and gender-neutral bathrooms of various capacities through out the space. In building so many arenas this year alone, Leiweke noted that was something the consumers demanded and they listened.

In the general areas, fans can access the Milagro Tequila and Garrison Brothers Whiskey stage-end bars with a variety of specialty cocktails and pretty sweet views of the performances. There are also two center-venue bars, the Michelob Ultra Gold Bar and the Indio-based company Buzzbox has its own bar, that offer unique concoctions and snacks, as well as center-ice views of the arena.

There are several pop-up bars and cashless tap-and-go options for quick access to a variety of alcoholix and non-alcoholic beverages and snacks. Just outside the venue, within a fenced off area that is open during events, there are numerous grab-and-go food stands featuring pre-made selections. These include personal-sized pizzas from celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis’ Pronto Pizza, former Lakers champion turned sports commentator Shaquille O’Neal’s Big Chicken offering the venue-exclusive Shaqtus sandwich with pepper jack cheese, pickled jalapeños and Fuego sauce, a variety of burgers from Tanner’s Prime Burgers, giant pretzels and smoked sausages from Koko’s Bavarian and tacos from the family-owned Los Angeles staple, Casa Escobar. There are also plenty of plant-based, vegan and vegetarian options as well.

Acrisure Arena

Where: 75702 Varner Road, Palm Desert

Information: 888-695-8778 or acrisurearena.com.


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