Warner Springs Ranch will get facelift

San Diego Union Tribune 7.1.10


Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 4:50 p.m.

When the Pala Indian tribe takes over the sprawling Warner Springs Ranch later this summer, it has plans to substantially renovate the aging resort, which will require closing it for up to three months.

While it is still unknown when escrow will close on the tribe’s $20 million purchase of the ranch, announced in December, Pala officials are hopeful it will be around mid-August. The renovation will address several maintenance and safety issues, although the overall look and feel of the rustic destination will not change, Pala Chairman Robert Smith said.

The Pala Band of Mission Indians already has assembled a list of various fixes it wants to make, including a redo of the golf course’s irrigation system and cart paths, changes to the property’s wastewater treatment plant and upgrades of common areas that are suffering after years of deferred maintenance.

Besides the golf course, the 2,522-acre resort features its namesake hot springs, horse trails, a landing strip, tennis courts, a dining hall and 250 bungalows, including 17 adobe casitas in which the Pala tribe’s ancestors lived.

“We just have to give it a face-lift,” Smith said, estimating that the costs would be in the millions. “We’re probably not going to upgrade the bungalows other than making sure everything works in them, but we need to do a full assessment of everything if we want to run it as a business. It’s kind of a rustic area, so we want to keep it the way it is. There are just a lot of maintenance things to be done.”

The resort, 65 miles northeast of San Diego on state Route 79, is currently held by roughly 2,000 individual ownerships acquired in the 1980s. Over time, Warner Springs fell on hard times, and although dues rose, they weren’t enough to keep up with increasing maintenance problems.

Pala, one of the county’s largest tribes, began reserving funds to buy Warner Springs Ranch in 2001, after the tribe opened its casino on state Route 76. Pala tribe members were forced off their land at gunpoint more than a century ago after a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Although the tribe reached agreement to purchase the resort in December, escrow did not open until March, Smith said.

“We want to be sure we have clear title because we already own property up there, which includes our ancestral graveyard and a church,” said Smith. “We’re essentially buying back our original homeland.”

Besides addressing needed upgrades, Pala will also take time during the temporary closure to spiritually cleanse the property. Once Warner Springs reopens, it will operate as a normal resort where there will no longer be member rates, as there are now. In addition, current employees would be able to reapply for their jobs, Smith said.

Pala Band of Mission Indians

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