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FEZ is promising but pitfalls exist with competition

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POSTED September 29, 2012 1:33 a.m.

The next big thing is already here - families traveling to youth sports events.

It’s a $7 billion industry and it’s growing by 3 to 5 percent annually despite the lingering effects of The Great Recession. And it accounts for 10 percent of the national leisure travel industry.

It encompasses everything from competitive baseball, softball, swimming, soccer and cheer to BMX and more.  It helps fill hotel rooms, restaurant seats and sell tickets to local attractions from movie theaters to family entertainment venues.

But like anything else those with the better mouse trap reap the greater return.

The money and jobs that traveling youth sports can bring to a community is why the Manteca City Council is now formally pursuing development of a family entertainment zone (FEZ) on 140 acres of municipal property just west of the city-owned Big League Dreams sports complex.

The BLD complex that has grown in revenue and attendance and has been packed with tournament play every weekend since it opened five years ago including all holiday weekends is proof that leisure sports are an economic draw. It is the norm on weekends to see players in uniform with their families in the nearby Chili’s, Costco, and Kohl’s to name a few stores that benefit from the presence of the BLD complex. That, of course, means more local jobs and more local tax receipts that are paid by non-residents.

Manteca isn’t the only city to notice the drawing power of sports complexes. Ripon is expanding baseball and soccer fields at Mistlin Park in the hope of drawing weekend tournament play. Tracy is in the process of converting the former Holly Sugar Plant site off Interstate 205 into a 166-acre sports complex. While it is designed to provide a home for Tracy’s soccer as well as youth baseball and softball programs it could very easily one day provide a draw for tournament play much like Woodward Park in Manteca is for Northern California youth soccer.

Manteca Councilman Steve DeBrum astutely noted Manteca has one thing going for it out of the gate “location, location, location.” The 120 Bypass between Interstate 5 and Highway 99 is at the epicenter of 1.3 million people in a 30-mile radius and 17 million people within 100 miles. So are Ripon and Tracy - to a degree. The Manteca BLD location, though, has much higher visibility.

It also has two things that Tracy and Ripon don’t have - the BLD complex with six replica fields, indoor soccer complex, and two on-site restaurants plus a Bass Pro Shops within a mile.

Add Great Wolf Resort with a 400-room hotel, a 75,000-square-foot indoor water park, and 30,000-square-foot conference center that can host events such as cheer competitions and you’ve got a gold plated mouse trap.

The question is whether the family entertainment center will make the Manteca mouse trap platinum or if it will add marginally little to the draw compared to public investment and risk.

The BLD complex and Great Wolf won’t be duplicated within the market. By making the 140 acres youth sports’ version of Disneyland the city is banking on a mega-boost in traffic and money being spent.

The city needs to be cautious and perhaps limit its investment into the FEZ to just infrastructure and access and perhaps the manmade lake designed to double as a storm retention basin.

Adding soccer field and baseball fields that the public would have to maintain may not be the wisest move. There is - and will be - too much competition for that part of the youth sports segment thanks to Tracy, Ripon, Stockton Airport and projects yet to move forward. A family entertainment zone with all of the attractions that are envisioned could still peel off dollars from those attending nearby tournaments. The point is the fields envisioned on the city property aren’t anything special. They aren’t a repeat of BLD. The proposed field they carry all the heavy costs of maintenance.

And while it is true the fields could meet future youth demand in Manteca, wouldn’t it be better for local residents if additional youth sports complexes were developed in east Manteca or elsewhere so everyone wouldn’t have to drive clear across town to access them?

BLD is one thing as it works. And it looks like Great Wolf will be more of the same without the city actually building the resort as they did with the sports complex.

Anything beyond that should be market driven and not forced by the city investing millions in playing fields and such that isn’t exactly in the optimum location for Manteca residents.



This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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