Jacumba Hot Springs Hotel hopes grand reopening awakens sleepy desert town

Owners of the hotel plan to develop the town, but worry a looming solar farm construction could ruin the desert town's atmosphere

One of the smallest and often forgotten towns in San Diego County could see a revival with the revamped Jacumba Hot Springs Hotel. In 2020, Jeff Osborne and his partners Melissa Strukel and Corbin Winters bought the hotel for a reported $3.9 million. The hotel will have a grand reopening on Wednesday.

"This is a beginning of a revival of this town," Osborne said.

But he and his partners worry a solar farm right next door could ruin that revival. Osborne says German company Baywa R-E got unanimous approval from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to build the farm that would be six times larger than the entire town of Jacumba Hot Springs.

During the Golden Age of Hollywood, actors like Clark Gable and Myrna Loy escaped the glam and glitz for the desert. The hot springs were a main attraction, making it an oasis for the stars.

"Jacumba Hot Springs was built in the '20s by the ex-mayor of San Diego as a historic destination to link San Diego to the Imperial Valley," Osborne said.

But it fell apart over the decades. Several owners tried to revive it in recent years without success. Now, Osborne hopes the hot-spring filled pools, rooms, bar, and atmosphere finally become the anchor this East County town needs.

The quiet southeastern San Diego County town of Jacumba Hot Springs on April 23, 2024. (NBC 7 San Diego)

San Diego locals Cat Lilly and Sarah Vaughn didn't know the hotel existed until seeing it surface on social media recently.

"I have never been out here. This place blew me away. It's so pretty. The hot springs pool is perfect," Lily said.

Osborne and his partners learned the purchase of the hotel also came with 80% of the town's commercial property, including the main street shops, a defunct gas station, an old bathhouse and a dried-up lake. They now consider themselves the stewards of Jacumba Hot Springs — and plan to redevelop as much as they can over the next few years.

"We feel this place is extremely special. We see this geography as unique, worth protecting and worth saving," Osborne said.

There is a catch. Osborne reports construction for the solar panel could begin next year on the land right outside of town.

With the project's size, Osbourne worries it could ruin the town’s character.

"From the beginning we thought it was an overreach in terms of its size. We support renewable energy but we thought it was being built to close to the town," Osborne said.

Osborne is optimistic and believes they can coexist.

"We consider people that live here our friends, our community, our neighbors," he said.

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