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Great Wolf guests will drive up to four hours

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POSTED August 23, 2014 12:21 a.m.

Manteca popped up on McWhinney Development’s radar for a Great Wolf Resort for the same reason that attracted Bass Pro Shops: Manteca’s location at the epicenter of a demographically rich market.

But unlike a Target or Whole Foods Store more focused on the pocketbooks and numbers of those within a 20-minute drive, Bass Pro looks for 100-mile markets while McWhinney focuses on three to four hour drive markets.

Great Wolf’s more extended draw compared to Bass Pro means that instead of looking at 18 million consumers, McWhiney figures they could draw from a base of at least 20 million potential customers.

Trae Rigby — the chief development officer for the Colorado-Based McWhinney firm —has no doubt Manteca will work for the Great Wolf Resort concept and work well.

Some naysayers have argued there isn’t the economic base of families willing to shell out $300 plus for a stay in a contained indoor waterpark resort.

Rigby can roll out demographics that verify such an assessment is selling the super-sized Manteca market way short. To the west is the Bay Area. Not only is it among the top three mega-regions in the nation for income and wealth, but within it is the epicenter of wealth giving birth to young families —  the Silicon Valley. To the north is Sacramento and to the south is Fresno.

Great Wolf built

on staycations

McWhinney looked at other Northern California locales including San Jose but concluded Manteca’s location to the overall market and its ability to handle the project was superior. It also helped that the city owns 30 acres along one of the highest profile routes for people leaving the Bay Area for staycations — the 120 Bypass.

The site just west of Costco ultimately will sit almost midway between two freeway interchanges a mile apart — Airport Way and McKinley Avenue.

 “Manteca makes a lot of sense for us,” Rigby said.

Traditional staycations are defined as not venturing so far that you can’t sleep in your own bed. But in the past decade, a growing number of families have opted for more extended staycations of a night away from home than the standard longer vacations.

Manteca is already on the road to major staycations destinations for the Bay Area — the Sierra and Yosemite Included are ski resort trips that in terms of cost are pricier than a stay at a Great Wolf.

McWhinney broke ground on a Great Wolf Resort in Garden Grove near Disneyland this summer. They could break ground by the end of 2015 in Manteca, according to City Manager Karen McLaughlin’s assessment of the environmental review process’ pace.

The Manteca resort initially will include 500 rooms with the ability to expand to 700 rooms. That would make it the biggest hotel in the San Joaquin Valley. The indoor waterpark would initially have 70,000 square feet. The first phase of a conference center that McLaughlin said would likely be operated by the city — would be 20,000 square feet.

Rigby notes Great Wolf enjoys “an extremely high” repeat customer base among its target group of families with kids ages 3 to 13. Families, he noted, see the value in the one-night suite package that gives them access to the waterpark for two days plus offers in-resort entertainment and dining.

Great Wolf is a 365 days a year resort with peak bookings being when schools are not in session during vacations, summer breaks, three-day weekends, and weekends.

Plans for community access days where locals can gain paid entrance to the waterpark without booking a room would take place on days when schools in the regional market are not in session. That is when there is excess room in the waterpark meaning resort guests can be comfortably accommodated.

Great Wolf has spill

over economic impact

McWhinney is impressed with Great Wolf’s track record and its reputation for pleasing customers hence the solid repeat business that is crucial for a resort’s success.

McLaughlin — during a trip to the Great Wolf in Ground Mound in Washington state last year — was impressed not only with the facility and how it was virtually booked solid but the fact the conference center had been a major stimulus for nearby businesses.

“About half the people that use the conference center don’t stay at Great Wolf,” McLaughlin said. “That has been a big boon to nearby hotels as well as other businesses such as restaurants.”

It is why McLaughlin believes Manteca making the first ever wedding of a Great Wolf with a family entertainment zone that will have free-standing private sector attractions plus a man-made lake, soccer fields, and amphitheater and more — will be a major boost to the Manteca economy and job market.

Councilman Vince Hernandez — who along with Councilman Steve DeBrum have been working closely with city staff on  the Great Wolf proposal — noted city personnel had visited other waterparks built near Big League Dreams sports complexes in Texas and discovered that a great many families who have players in weekend BLD tournaments access the waterparks. That was especially true of those who booked overnight stays in hotels for tournament play.

Given that the Manteca sports park is the most successful in the BLD system, Hernandez believes Great Wolf and the BLD complex ill work in tandem to strengthen Manteca’s economy.

A McWhinney investment in a Manteca Great Wolf Resort would represent roughly $150 million. It would take about two years to build and would provide 570 jobs of which 414 would be full-time. The projected annual payroll is $9.4 million.

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