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Three major Borrego Springs resorts for sale or in escrow

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Three of Borrego Springs' major resorts are in play with two in escrow and another just placed on the market, signaling an unprecedented round of activity in the Anza-Borrego Desert community.

Rams Hill and La Casa del Zorro are in escrow to separate undisclosed buyers, while the Borrego Springs Resort & Country Club is now up for sale in the desert community.

The 971.9-acre Borrego Springs Resort and Country Club has been listed by Real Living Lifestyles for $10 million.

The Cameron Brothers Construction-owned property has three nine hole golf courses, a two-story, 100-room hotel, two swimming pools and a spa, tennis courts and a country club with a restaurant, lounge, bar and café.

Cameron Brothers has owned the property since 1991.

But Rick Vesci, director of Real Living's resort division, said what may be most important is that the property is entitled for more than 800 residential units.

The property's current zoning allows for the addition of 434 single family detached homes, 166 patio homes, 178 single family attached homes, 27 ranchettes and 16 ranches to the already established development.

“The property is an ideal opportunity for a developer who wants to have access to that vast amount of real estate,” Vesci said.

The property, which he said is in excellent condition, “is equivalent to a three-star resort.

The Montesoro resort in Borrego Springs. Courtesy of CoStar

And there is very little deferred maintenance.”

Vesci said a publicly traded homebuilder such as a Pulte Homes (NYSE: PHM) might be a good candidate to buy the property.

Jim Moxham, CEO of Santee-based Cameron Brothers, said they want to sell now because the family wanted to deploy its resources closer to home.

“We've owned it for more than 20 years, the market [has] recovered and we have other needs,” he added.

Whichever firm ends up with the resort, Moxham said the buyer will be getting a strong asset.

“It's the only full service, functioning resort in Borrego today,” he said.

Residential developments around golf courses haven't always done well in Borrego Springs.

Started by the DiGiorgio Corp. in 1982, the Rams Hill property, was originally designed for as many as 1,500 homes along with its golf courses.

DiGiorgio masterplanned the property, developed the infrastructure and sold lots.

After passing through a couple of ownerships, the property was placed in Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1994 and again in 2002.

About 275 homes had been built by that point.

In 2004, a partnership led by Sherman Oaks-based GH Capital acquired the 3,100-acre property out of receivership for $14 million and changed the name to Montesoro.

About 50 more homes were built before the sales stalled once more.

GH Capital then ripped out the existing golf course and replaced it with a Tom Fazio design by the mid-2000s, but that too never had the expected draw.

GH Capital also paid $2 million to acquire the Casa del Zorro from the Copley family -- the former U-T San Diego owners -- and changed the name to Borrego Springs Ranch in 2008.

That property was shuttered by the end of 2009. Numerous reasons were cited for the closure, including a decision by the owner to bar children from the property.

Montesoro, meanwhile, continued to have problems.

Water bonds and other assessments weren't being paid, and while the golf course’s greens were initially maintained, the fairways were allowed to dry out.

The golf course, which Vesci said closed last May, may now be re-opened in November of this year.

Geyser Holdings, a local investment firm, purchased Montesoro in 2011, but never had the intention of holding onto the property.

Now the Montesoro name has reverted back to Rams Hill and the property is in escrow to an undisclosed San Diego-area buyer.

Escrows don't always close, however.

Washington state investors and frequent Borrego visitors Ray and Marion Bolanos had hoped to purchase the property within the past couple of years, but were unable to come to terms.

The couple had previously tried to buy Montesoro from GH Capital, which had been unwilling to sell.

GH Capital still heads a partnership that owns about 40 lots in Rams Hill, but those are expected to go to the new buyer upon close of escrow.

That new buyer is also negotiating with the water district and GH Capital over who will pay those outstanding assessments.

The Rams Hill property now has 150 finished lots, 150 partially finished lots and 700 acres of land for future development.

“It is entitled for another 18-hole golf course as well,” Vesci said.

In 2011, Vesci handled the sale on another Borrego Springs property -- the 1,400-acre Borrego Air Ranch that includes a 5,100-square-foot home and access to a 4,600-foot runway, among other features.

Peter Cole Jensen, a Nevada investor, paid $1.45 million for that property.

Vesci said he is excited "that all these properties will have new owners -- even the grocery store has a new owner – [which] bodes very well for Borrego Springs."

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