As Indio plans future park honoring Nobles Ranch, it wants to hear from public

The Indio Grand Marketplace, lower right, and the vacant lots of the former John Nobles neighborhood can be seen in this aerial photo shot March 24, 2022.
The Indio Grand Marketplace, lower right, and the vacant lots of the former John Nobles neighborhood can be seen in this aerial photo shot March 24, 2022.

The city of Indio wants to hear from the public as it shapes the future John Nobles Memorial Park. A community meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at city hall is open to residents, with those who once lived in the Nobles Ranch area or who have family that did especially encouraged to attend.

Plans for the new park are part of the Indio Grand Marketplace development, south of Highway 111 and just east of Monroe Street. The park is meant to recognize the community that used to call Nobles Ranch, on the land behind the current mall structure, home.

Nobles Ranch is a significant part of the city's history, founded by John Nobles, a Black sharecropper who is believed to have arrived in the Coachella Valley from Oklahoma in the 1920s. As Nobles sold or gave pieces of his land to other Black settlers and workers, the area transformed into one of Indio's first and few Black communities, and remained that way for decades.

By 1987, the the Indio Fashion Mall (rebranded as the Grand Marketplace in recent years) had been established and its owner was looking to expand it. According to past Desert Sun coverage, the idea was to double its size by adding 100 new stores, requiring additional acreage for the development.

More:Zombie mall: The twisting tale of the Indio mall and what its future might hold

More:A sign of hope decades after Indio destroyed historic Black community of Nobles Ranch

After negotiations stalled between some Nobles Ranch residents and the city for the land that would add to the mall, officials decided to take the land using eminent domain — the government power to take private property, usually for public use.

Residents filed a suit against the city, but were ultimately displaced and the community was undone. Meanwhile, the suit dissuaded investors, causing delays in the expansion project and leading the deal between the mall owner and the city to be terminated.

Currently, the Haagen Company, which owns the Empire Polo Club in Indio, hopes to invest in the mall as part of efforts to revitalize the city's downtown. The company announced plans this year to turn the land that was once the Nobles Ranch community into an apartment, hotel and restaurant complex, along with a public park that pays tribute to its displaced residents.

Since the summer, Mayor Waymond Fermon has sought out input from past Nobles Ranch residents and their descendents on social media, saying the memorial park will feature trees, plants and plaques to honor that community.

Ahead of rotating into the mayoral position in December 2021, Fermon told The Desert Sun that working with the Nobles Ranch community would be a priority during his time in the post. Mayor Pro Tem Oscar Ortiz will become mayor next month.

A view of the recently-razed Nobles Ranch community from a 1998 Desert Sun report.
A view of the recently-razed Nobles Ranch community from a 1998 Desert Sun report.

"Since this (displacement) happened, that community (and) the adjacent community, which is Desert Gardens, has continued to struggle because that piece of property has sat dormant for 30 years, and that's unfortunate and unacceptable," Fermon said. He added that he was interested in working with residents to find a way to "move forward."

For years, the Kyriakos Christian Center was the only original building left from the Nobles Ranch days, and its leading pastor, Carl McPeters, said he was hopeful that when Fermon became mayor, he would find a way to commemorate the community's struggles, because he and City Manager Bryan Montgomery had expressed interest in doing so.

The Kyriakos Christian Center was demolished in October.

Residents interested in the issue can contact Fermon at wfermon@indio.org and can attend the meeting to discuss the park. Although it's not a city council meeting, it will be held in council chambers at Indio City Hall at 100 Civic Center Dr.

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Eliana Perez covers the eastern Coachella Valley. Reach her at eliana.perez@thedesertsun.com or on Twitter @ElianaPress.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Indio seeks public input on future park honoring Nobles Ranch