Developers float plan to turn untouched ex-Annenberg estate land in Rancho Mirage into a lagoon

Amy DiPierro
Palm Springs Desert Sun
A large block of undeveloped land at the northeast corner of the intersection of Bob Hope Dr. and Frank Sinatra Dr. in Rancho Mirage, March 26, 2018.

The new owners of a square mile of untouched desert in the heart of the Coachella Valley are floating a plan to turn the virgin site into a potential resort, retail and housing development built around a recreational lagoon.

EC Rancho Mirage Holdings Limited Holdings, a group of investors led by a Canadian private equity firm, purchased the 618-acre property in March for $75 million.

Now the landowner has hired a master developer, Scottsdale, Arizona-based DMB Development LLC, to manage the project, which would sit on land once part of the Annenberg Estate.

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Developers submitted a draft of a specific plan for the site, which is known as Section 31, to the City of Rancho Mirage on August 13.

Mary Alexander, Executive Vice President and General Counsel at DMB, said plans for Section 31 are “at a very, very early stage.”

Still, DMB already has some basic ideas about the kind of real estate development that could find a home on the property. Plans under consideration include a variety of housing types, retail and restaurant space as well as a hotel and resort, Alexander said.

Developers also envision a network of walking and biking trails to encourage visitors to leave their cars at home. The preliminary plans, additionally, include a lagoon open to hotel guests and residents – which DMB hopes will lure tourists to the Coachella Valley even during the hottest parts of the year.

Alexander said DMB aims to create a “sustainable desert oasis” with an “emphasis on low water usage, responsible use of utilities and natural resources.”

And she said the development will likely use much less water than any of the golf courses that would be its neighbors.

“The fact is, almost every development in that area has a golf course, and a golf course uses a lot more water than this lagoon,” she said.

Developers have long eyed Section 31 as a prime spot for future resort and home-building as a result of its coveted Rancho Mirage address and proximity to the Sunnylands estate.

The land is easy to spot on a satellite-imagery map – a great, white square starting at the northeast corner of Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra drives, stretching for a mile north to Gerald Ford Drive and east to Monterey Avenue. Today, the only larger undeveloped sites are around the edges of the Coachella Valley.

But Section 31 has eluded development. After Walter Annenberg sold the property in the late 1970s, its ownership fractured into two parts. Any aspirations to build housing or a resort on the land dissipated after one of the two owners filed for bankruptcy in 2010.

EC Rancho Mirage Holdings Limited Partnership purchased the property on March 26, 2018, according to a sale deed. The entity is led by a Vancouver-based firm, Clarity Real Estate, and also includes equity investments from a pair of New York-based family offices.

Amy DiPierro covers real estate and business news for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs. Reach her at or 760-218-2359.