La Sierra University buys Rancho Mirage land for campus

Riverside-based school plans nearly 6-acre criminal justice satellite

Joy Fehr, president, La Sierra University, in front of 70251 Ramon Road in Rancho Mirage (LoopNet, La Sierra University)
Joy Fehr, president, La Sierra University, in front of 70251 Ramon Road in Rancho Mirage (LoopNet, La Sierra University)

La Sierra University, a private Christian college in Riverside, bought nearly six acres in Rancho Mirage to build a satellite campus.

The site is made up of two adjacent parcels on Ramon Road about two miles west of Interstate 10: a 2.7 acre lot that was recently vacated by the Braille Institute, and a 2.9-acre empty lot that sits next to a hospital.

“This is a really good comp for the area,” said Mike Radlovic, a broker with Coldwell Banker who represented the seller of the larger parcel. “It’s just a good thing for this part of town to have a nice new school, and have that kind of investment.”

La Sierra paid a total of nearly $6.4 million for both lots — $4.4 million for the former Braille Institute site and just under $2 million for the empty lot. La Sierra bought both properties concurrently, with the deal closing in December. A university representative confirmed the sale.

La Sierra plans to use the land to expand its criminal justice program to serve students in the Coachella Valley–an area that ranges from Palm Spirings to the agricultural fields on the northern fringe of the Salton Sea. The new campus is slated to open this fall, a university representative said, and will likely initially serve fewer than 100 students, although it could eventually see several times as many. La Sierra’s criminal justice program currently operates out of another university satellite campus in the Riverside County city of Corona.

The university bought the empty 2.9-acre lot from Rancho Mirage Medical Holdings, Ltd. The plot was spun off from the Vibra Rehabilitation Hospital of Rancho Mirage, a newly constructed 50-bed facility that was a joint venture between Vibra Healthcare and Eisenhower Health. Rancho Mirage Medical Holdings bought the parcel, which is zoned for commercial use, for $1.5 million in 2016, according to records.

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The other seller, the Braille Institute, is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit with seven locations throughout Southern California. The organization closed its 30,000-square-foot Rancho Mirage facility, which included a library, in 2019, and opened a smaller space in Palm Desert. The organization had owned the property since 1989, according to records.

The deal represents a minor boon for the desert city’s commercial market. Throughout the pandemic Rancho Mirage, a scenic area about 120 miles east of Downtown Los Angeles and about 12 miles east of Palm Springs, has enjoyed strong residential sales, Radlovic said, although its commercial market has lagged somewhat.

“I think the combination of the building and the land all came together at the right time,” he said of the sale.

La Sierra University’s main campus occupies 150 acres in the hills of Riverside, about 75 miles west of its new property in Rancho Mirage. The university was founded in 1922 by Seventh-day Adventists as La Sierra Academy, and currently enrolls some 2,300 total students. The new campus will rise against the backdrop of an 18-hole Gary Player Signature golf course, one of many in an area that’s also known for well-heeled retirees and resorts.

La Sierra’s development of a new satellite campus runs counter to plans in the works at several other institutions of higher education that are shedding real estate as online education continues to gain traction, pushed in part by campus closures during the pandemic. American Jewish University recently announced plans to sell a 35-acre satellite campus in the Bel-Air district of Los Angeles while retaining a 1,200-acre main campus in suburban Simi Valley.

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