Borrego: Casa del Zorro coming back

Announcement of escrow closing will come at midnight tonight

An extremely reliable source says that at midnight tonight (Jan. 31), a press release will go out announcing that escrow has closed on the purchase of Borrego Springs's Borrego Ranch Resort & Spa (formerly La Casa del Zorro), now closed. It will be renamed La Casa del Zorro. As earlier reported here, the primary buyers will be former San Diego City Manager Jack McGrory, hotelier Jack Giacomini, and real estate entrepreneur Casey Brown. Price may or may not be revealed in the release. The seller will be a group of investors headed by Gregory Perlman of Sherman Oaks, who purchased the facility and other Borrego properties, but then ran into financial trouble. Perlman's group supposedly pumped millions into the resort which, he said, had been losing $5 million a year when San Diego's Copley publishing family owned it. Giacomini had done consulting work for the Copleys on the Casa, and thinks it has a great future. A so-called "soft opening" (one without pre-hoopla) is planned for May 1.

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NOTE: The escrow has now closed. No word on the price yet. Best, Don Bauder

According to the Manchester U-T, the purchase price was $2.4 mil--apparently a bargain, since the previous owner spent $2.5 mil to purchase the resort, then $7 mil to fix it up. Yikes.

Aardvark: Yes, later this afternoon the U-T said that the price was $2.4 million. Perlman, who had bought it from Copley, did pour money into it -- then closed it. Best, Don Bauder

It appears Jack McGrory is doing fairly well since leaving the employ of the City of San Diego.

aardvark: Oh yes, McGrory has cleaned up. He went to work for John Moores and the Padres. Then he joined up with Sol Price and his family. Big bucks rolled in from both gigs. Best, Don Bauder

Don reported in an earlier blog that McGrory could have earned as much as $80 million from founders stock when he left his executive position with PriceSmart, a Costco knock off that operates a chain of stores in South America. McGrory also helped John Moores build the Ballpark. I don't know if Jack had a piece of the Ballpark development. If he did, he likely made a killing there too.

Burwell: Suffice it to say that McGrory's institutional knowledge of San Diego, particularly its real estate, made him a very rich man. Best, Don Bauder

If the rechristened Casa del Zorro reopens with room rates under $200 a night, as was reported in today's Mill, it will be interesting to see if it can get its occupancy rate up to something that might bring profits. Over its history it was a perpetual money loser. A delightful place with attentive service, it was very special. Borrego Springs just hasn't been the same since it closed. The fitness center, a relatively recent addition to the facilities, is world class, and opening it up to the community may be a smart move. In the era of 2003 to the time it was sold, the place seemed almost deserted during the winter months. Then, after the new owners changed the name and raised rates even higher, it had nearly no guests and few patrons in the dining room.

Overall, visits to Borrego Springs appear to have been in decline since the mid-90's. Recent personal observation makes me wonder if there is any possibility of turning the town around as a tourist attraction. If the reopening of the Casa doesn't do it, I'd say it will continue to slumber, and neither the Casa, the Resort and Spa, nor the Palm Canyon Resort will make a go of it.

Visduh: I recently got a report from somebody who had just visited Borrego. He and his wife stayed at one of the resorts, and very few guests were there. Houses did not seem to be occupied. This is the season Borrego should prosper. If it is not attracting winter guests and part-time homeowners are not coming in the winter, Borrego has a long way to go. On the other hand, Giacomini is a smart hotelier, and I wouldn't bet against him and his investment group. Best, Don Bauder

Wow, Visdun, what dark cloud were you born under? Do you go through life looking for the bad things? Do you see a beautiful woman, but only notice a small blemish?

Perhaps you have lived in Borrego and have suffered from its numerous failures delivered by bad decisions and difficult economic times. Poor vision and mismanagement has plagued this community which unfortunately, has been living under dark clouds of doubt. The community has suffered, but it should not be blamed for the mistakes of previous decision makers.

I’m an optimist and believe a new day has arrived! The sun is breaking through and its first rays are shining brightly on Casa del Zorro. Doubt, despair and disappointment are being replaced with hope, and promise, which with time will lead to confidence and trust. The new owners are bright, well connected and well financed. They stole Casa and we will all benefit from their good fortune. They can afford to make it the jewel in the desert it once was. I’ll bet they make it better than their predecessors’ ever dreamt.

Let's hope the Borrego Springs Resort and Rams Hill also finds qualified owners. If they do, the sun will shine on this beautiful small desert town which is unknown, undiscovered and an enigma to the rest of the country.

The beauty of Borrego is that it isn’t Palm Springs. There isn’t a Burger King or Pep Boys on every corner and you don’t drive down endless canyons of walled estates and communities. People in Borrego are not flashy, despise bling, and don’t feel the need to show off. They appreciate the desert’s natural beauty. They enjoy the stars, a bike ride up Yaqui Pass, desert flowers, the quiet, the peace, indeed the tranquility offered by this remote desert town. Borrego will always be that way because it is blessed with a limited water supply. It will never be Palm Springs where they stamp out a new golf community every year. This endless supply means that their homes never appreciate. In so many ways it is the opposite of beach front property. They have an endless supply of land, water, and flashy LA bling. Borrego doesn’t, but the sun is beginning to shine and I hope your spirits are warmed by it.

Nobody will be happier than I when the Casa reopens, especially if it keeps its prices halfway in line with reality. If you go back and read my comment above, you will see that I remember it fondly. And at least once a year in the winter we visit Borrego Springs, stay at least a couple nights, and enjoy the desert. And how, you ask, do we enjoy the place? Well, we drive as far as we can go into remote spots, then start hiking. After a day of that sort of activity, a welcoming oasis of a resort and a spot to enjoy fine dining is just what caps the day. I would love to see the place get a bit livelier and have more retail activity, such as something like a real supermarket. But our most recent visits have revealed that the town is quieter than ever.

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