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Water park resort: Is it Manteca’s Great Wolf Hope?

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POSTED April 28, 2011 1:18 a.m.

Great Wolf Resort is currently conducting extensive talks with the City of Manteca about the possibility of building a 400- to 600- room hotel, indoor water park, and convention center on municipal land immediately west of Costco.

Conservative revenue estimates show the use of a pumped up room tax for a special entertainment zone based on how well the company is doing at their Grand Mound location in the State of Washington could bring in between $5 million and $7 million annually to the municipal general fund and add 500 permanent private sector jobs.

If that proves to be correct and if Great Wolf were in place today Manteca would not be worrying about service cutbacks even if the most conservative projection - $5 million a year - is only what materializes.

There are wild cards all over the place. It will require some redevelopment agency investment. No one is saying that isn’t part of the package. The question is how much. And whether it is reasonable will be a judgment call for city leaders assuming the state doesn’t pull the rug out from under RDAs up and down the state. If the state stops short of ending RDAs and comes up with some type of revenue shift that keeps them partially intact, Manteca given their conservative financial management of the RDA could very well still execute a deal.

That is why the idea of a Manteca Great Wolf Resort is still very much alive.

Philosophical questions aside, the bottom line to the city is $5 million to $7 million in general fund revenue. To put those numbers in perspective, Manteca is expected to receive $7.5 million in sales tax in the current fiscal year and $9.9 million in property taxes. Property and sales taxes are the two biggest sources of money for the city’s day-to-day operations.

But the more telling comparison - if the numbers are solid - is the conservative side of the equation which would have Great Wolf pumping $5 million into the general fund. That is almost one-fifth of all of the general fund revenue - $26.3 million - Manteca is expecting to receive this year.

And while 1,000 construction jobs may be temporary and go to workers for companies that specialize in building such structures which means there may not be many local construction workers hired, it is tough to ignore 500 more permanent jobs in a community with a 16 percent unemployment rate.

Great Wolf nationally has scored an uptick in room bookings in excess of 10 percent during 2010. That is over three times the gain of competitors. Some credit that to the exclusivity of Great Wolf that essentially runs a closed resort for guests.

That has incensed some Mantecans who do not believe that a trade off of more jobs and significantly more funding for city services would be worth using RDA funds to move the project along.

But that may not be as big of an issue given what Great Wolf Resort does in other communities.

They do allow special days for locals to buy water passes but the real lure are deep discounts during the off-season when they try to secure local business to fill empty rooms.

In Grand Mound, e-mail blasts to local residents can get them a room for four people during the off-season for $109 a night or right around 60 percent below on-season. A room is good for an overnight stay plus two days use of the water park. To break that down, it would cost $27.50 per person or $13.75 per day per person to use the water park. You can’t go to Raging Waters that cheap.

So the question for some may come down to this: Is it worth having Great Wolf if it can significantly ease Manteca’s municipal budget woes and 500 permanent jobs if it means only being able to access the water park during the off-season?

In other words is it better to have the proverbial wolf howling at Manteca’s door than it is to go with what might just indeed best be characterized as the Great Wolf Hope?

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