A California town is on sale for $6.6M: How you can make Campo yours – USA TODAY

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An aerial view of Campo, an unincorporated community in southeastern California. The 16-acre property, which includes a post office and church, is for sale for $6.6 million.

Set against a backdrop of rough California terrain, the small town of Campo – with its dirt roads and worn-down buildings – retains the feel of the long-ago unsettled American frontier.

Those who visit the unincorporated community just a mile from the Mexico border may feel like they stepped back into a time when settlers and pioneers, called by “manifest destiny,” were drawn to the Old West. But realtors who are trying to entice a buyer to purchase the entire town say that’s part of Campo’s charm.

In one of the more unusual real estate listings, downtown Campo hit the market this week for $6.6 million.

“It is known for its natural beauty, historical significance, and close-knit community,” listing agent Nick Hernandez of Top Gun Commercial Real Estate told USA TODAY.

Hernandez and agent Joseph Barela of the Mission Valley-based firm are the new real estate duo who are leading the effort to get the town of Campo sold to the highest bidder. Since getting the listing, the realtors have been contacting potential buyers and creating marketing material; they even produced a promo video.

The sale would include more than 20 buildings – a mix of single-family homes, apartments and commercial properties to rent out, as well as vacant structures that could be renovated for new uses, according to the listing.

This isn’t the first attempt to sell Campo, which is located a little more than an hour’s drive east of San Diego. Hernandez, though, said residents are eager for a new owner to take over the town with visions of improving the community.

Here’s what to know about Campo.

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Campo infrastructure dates back to WWII

A residential street in Campo. The Campo Valley region has a history of non-Native American settlement dating back to the 1860s, but almost every structure in town today was built during World War II.

Located in eastern San Diego County, Campo is surrounded by the Laguna Mountains and is home to about 150 residents in the town itself.

Another 3,000 people live in the surrounding area, which is not a part of the real estate listing, Hernandez said.

While the Campo Valley region has a history of non-Native American settlement dating back to the 1860s, almost every structure in town today was built during World War II.

Campo was once the site of Camp Lockett that was home to the famed African-American Army unit known as the Buffalo Soldiers, who were stationed there to guard the southern border from invasion. During World War II, the base also housed German and Italian prisoners of war.

Campo owned by Vegas investor

Las Vegas real estate investor John Ray has owned most of Campo since 2000.

Ray, who unsuccessfully attempted to sell Campo in 2019, has now tasked Hernandez and Barela with getting the job done.

A metal shop is among the commercial buildings rented out in Campo. Las Vegas investor John Ray has owned the town since 2000 and is now hoping to sell it.

But the biggest challenge in finding a buyer, Hernandez said, is in the town’s isolated location.

“There is a lack of jobs in the immediate area,” he said. “John has received offers in the past but has never been able to agree on price with those buyers.”

Asked why he bought Campo in the first place, Ray didn’t have much to say in a recent interview with the Orange County Register.

“Why do I buy anything?” he told the outlet. “I don’t know. To make a profit, I guess.”

What does it mean to own a town like Campo?

The sale includes three privately-owned adjoining parcels spanning 16 total acres.

This area encompasses downtown Campo, and includes 21 residential buildings and seven commercial buildings that Ray currently rents out to tenants.

The commercial tenants include a U.S. Post Office, a Baptist church, a metal shop, a Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter, a border patrol outpost, a lumber shop and a cabinet shop. The residential properties are a mix of single-family homes and small apartment buildings that were once Army barracks dating to WWII.

The U.S. postal office located in Campo is one of just seven commercial buildings located in the small downtown area.

Top Gun CRE is looking for a buyer who is interested in revitalizing the town by renovating existing buildings, Hernandez said. Opportunities also exist for redevelopment, allowing a new owner to build new housing or add manufactured units at vacant buildings zoned for both commercial and residential uses.

“Someone will have the ability to shape the community and steer the future of downtown Campo,” Hernandez said. “We are open to working with creative and visionary investors who have unique ideas of what they want to do with the town.”

A look inside a renovated residential building in Campo. Many of the residences have been renovated with vinyl plank flooring, washer/dryer hookups and newer roofs.

Who is interested in buying Campo?

While most of the inquiries the Top Gun realtors have received have mainly been from traditional real estate developers, Hernandez said he and Barela have been in talks with some potential buyers with unconventional ideas as well.

One buyer group reached out with interest in transforming Campo into a touristy resort town, Hernandez said. Another, a Los Angeles media company, was interested in purchasing the town as a prize for a winner of a reality television series.

But local residents simply hope whoever buys the town has their interests in mind, too, Hernandez said.

“While they appreciate the small-town charm of Campo and wish to avoid overdevelopment, they do want to make it more appealing to welcome more visitors,” Hernandez said. “Residents have expressed a desire for more family-oriented amenities, such as a daycare facility, basketball court, gym, and playground.”

Bob Marks, co-owner of Campo’s East County Lumber and Ranch Supply, told the Register he would like to see a new owner put some money into fixing up the dilapidated buildings, many of which have been boarded up for decades.

“It’s backcountry and a tight-knit community,” Marks told the Register. “I like it being quiet and it is nice.”

Eric Lagatta covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach him at [email protected]

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