PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -

If you've ever entered Palm Springs on Highway 111 you've probably noticed the welcome sign -- a "Palm Springs" sign has been in the spot for around 40 years.

But the city has not owned the land it's on.

Private owners -- now the Chino Cienega Foundation of Palm Springs -- gave the city a rent-free lease, until now.

"The city decided it really needed to own the property. There was a purchase option in the lease," said foundation president Steve Nichols.

Nichols was asked if the city could have continued leasing the land. "Certainly not rent free. That was over," he answered.

The city is now going to shell out $690,000 for just under three acres which include the sign area, along with land around the nearby Visitors Center and the parking lot.

The city already owns the Visitors Center.

So why pay so much to preserve the sign? City leaders say it's a tough decision but believe it's good business.

"It was a painful decision. But we didn't want to lose a branding opportunity," said Councilman Paul Lewin.

Mary Jo Ginther with the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism says 200,000 people went through the Visitors Center the past fiscal year.

She says the sign is a big reason for that.

"To have an iconic sign like that -- that's in photographs when people go home and they're sending these out through Facebook or wherever. That's branding of Palm Springs. That's very powerful," said Ginther.

The city says it will not use the general fund, rather a park fund, to make the purchase.