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Is there a Great Wolf knocking at Manteca’s door?

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POSTED November 11, 2010 2:09 a.m.
It definitely isn’t your father’s water park.

Great Wolf Lodge resorts is toying with the idea of putting an indoor water park and resort next door to the Big League Dreams sports complex.

Think Manteca Waterslides with a big dose of Bass Pro Shops ambiance, family suites, and with a climate-controlled water park where it is a pleasant 70 or so degrees winter, spring, summer, or fall.

Great Wolf resorts is America’s largest developer of indoor water parks. It operates 12 such resorts - with all but one east of the Rocky Mountains. The average overnight stay is $255. There is one resort in the West - located in Ground Mound, Wash. - that fetches $449 a night.

Two resorts they built in 2003 - one in Kansas City, Kan., and the other on Traverse City, Mich. - represented a combined investment of $100 million. The firm’s largest resort consists of 600 rooms and a 75,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor water park.

It also includes restaurants, conference and meeting facilities, a fitness center adult spa, children’s spa, children’s activity area, interactive entertainment arcades and even more pedestrian activities such as story time around a large resort fireplace. Some of the rooms even go as far as to encompass “wolf dens” for kids so they can “rough it” with movies, Nintendo, and a 20-inch flat screen LCD TV.

There is one caveat. This isn’t everyman’s waterslides such as the one launched by the Budge Brown family more than 30 years ago at Oakwood Lake just outside of Manteca that became California’s first water park. In order to access the water park one must be an overnight guest.

The first Great Wolf Lodge resort opened in 1997 in Wisconsin capitalized on the fact there isn’t much to do in the dead of winter on the Great Plains.

 Up until this year, the firm concentrated on locations within several hours of metropolitan areas.

That strategy changed this past summer. That is when they sealed a license and management agreement to operate a proposed 600-room Great Wolf Lodge just two miles from Disneyland in Garden Grove.

Such a move came after the firm let go of the assumption that “cabin fever” mentality in snow areas was a prime catalyst for business. It is also marrying up with partners instead of being a lone wolf in building the expensive water park resorts.

The Southern California venture moves the firm more toward being an operator of new resorts instead of the owner. It is much like the partnership that Manteca now has with Big League Dreams. They city owns the complex and BLD manages it.

Whether that would happen in Manteca or if Great Wolf is serious about expanding here has yet to be seen.

One thing is sure is what has drawn the firm’s interest.

It has more to do with Manteca’s unique position being at the epicenter of the third largest 100-mile radius market in the United States - with 17 million consumers behind Los Angeles and New York -  than it does with Manteca forever being joined at the hip with the concept of water slides.

People still  more than five years after the water slides’ demise will tell someone when they are traveling they are from Manteca and they often get a response along the line, “oh, where the water slides are.”

A Great Wolf Lodge could actually transform Manteca beyond its emergence as a regional market with Bass Pro Shops and Big League Dreams as well as the soon-to-open premium lifestyle outlets - to an international market.

A large chunk of the Manteca Waterslides trade were foreign tourists stopping by - sometimes by the busload - on the way back to San Francisco after traveling to Yosemite National Park.

Creating synergy is essential to super-sizing economic bases. It is why San Francisco is an attractive tourist spot. It is also what made the Silicon Valley what it is today as much as is what made Orlando, Fla. popular tourist destination. Stand alone ventures aren’t nearly effective as successful groupings.

Who knows? If Great Wolf does locate in Manteca it may become a popular overnight destination for vacations instead of just to play softball or to wander for two or four hours through Bass Pro Shops before dropping a king’s ransom.

Regardless, the goal for the city is still the same: To lure as much of the tourism and visitors pie that they can to continue Manteca’s steady march away from a bedroom community relying on commuter dollars to one with a tourism and distribution center base.
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