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City dedicates new ‘community meeting hall’

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POSTED August 8, 2013 1:32 a.m.

“The city isn’t dedicating a transit station; they’re dedicating a community meeting hall.”

The caller was reacting to a headline in Monday’s Bulletin that read, “One free rental for non-profits? Council setting transit center community room rents.”

For all practical purposes the caller was right — at least for the foreseeable future. The only transit service that will be using the transit center in the near future is the city’s fledgling bus system. The odds are within a year Regional Transit will integrate it into its route schedule. But as far as private sector transit, such as Greyhound, there’s nothing on the horizon. Altamont Corridor Express commuter rail service is a possibility but the earliest that could happen is 2018.

The city’s intent, though, was never just to create a transit center per se. They wanted a public building that served as a downtown focal point. And they wanted additional hall and meeting space for the community since that has repeatedly been mentioned as a big need by residents over the years.

The proposed once-a-year free rental for Manteca non-profits plus significantly reduced rent at other times quickly dampened the afterglow of Tuesday’s dedication of the $8.3 million transit center at Moffat and Main. The rental schedule — especially with the one free rental per year — has the potential to seriously cripple the MRPS and FESM halls, plus do a fair amount of damage to The Emory and Chez Shari. 

The council was right to reject the rate schedule as presented and to have a community-based committee offer its input on rates for the transit center community room. The council is wrong, though if they believe this is a one-dimensional issue.

A case can be made for the lower week day rentals aimed at smaller groups. But then again that takes aim at a whole new category of businesses such as The Rendezvous Room, Isadore’s, and any restaurant with a back room or space to adequately accommodate small groups.

Getting rid of the once-a-year free rental for non-profits would probably take away some of the sting.

The maximum sit down and dine capacity of 200 to 250 people for the 3,000-square-foot transit center community room will probably take it off the list for some larger non-profit events. But for the most part the transit center would work for many existing non-profit events. That means undercutting existing halls will be more than dicey especially given the rationale the city will likely use to ultimately guide its rates.

Staff has referred to state laws that indicate they can’t make a profit on operations. That’s fine, but if that’s the case the rent is only covering staff time as well as maintenance and operation expenses connected to the community room. At the very least the depreciation of the room, kitchen, the required parking spaces, and part of the restrooms should be allowed to be taken into consideration. Given the fact it’s a third of the space and the overall complex cost $8.3 million it would seem the city has a bit of wiggle room to increase the proposed rates since they could justify the need to try and set aside $2.75 million to ultimately replace the community meeting room.

The community room also happens to be an ideal size for weddings and private parties — the bread and butter of businesses such as The Emory and Chez Shari. The ambiance of Chez Shari is significantly better overall for wedding receptions and such thanks to the sweeping balcony and view of the golf course. The transit center is new, has a lot of bells and whistles, and has the added bonus of periodical freight train traffic to detract from using the expansive outdoor plaza. However, if it’s purely an indoor event such as a Christmas party the rates proposed initially would undercut the competition significantly. Of course, the city didn’t compare rates with the competition in Manteca. Instead they used rates of municipal facilities in nearby cities such as Oakdale and Modesto.

Then there’s the 900-pound gorilla that could be coming down the tracks. Before year’s end after exhaustive number crunching is done by McWhinney Development and the City of Manteca, a decision could be made that would bring a Great Wolf Resort to Manteca. Most of the attention has been focused on the 400-room hotel and adjoining 75,000-square-foot indoor water park. The project also includes a 30,000-square-foot conference center.

The conference center would be divisible into smaller spaces. While the goal is to attract regional events to book rooms at Great Wolf, it would likely also be available for rent for local public and private events.

This matters as one possible scenario could have the city somehow financing the conference center and running it. Nothing has been said one way or the other, but there are public funding mechanisms that could make such strategy a reality.

If that were to occur, the impact on the rental hall market would make the transit center akin to a BB pellet hitting the side of a house compared to a speeding cement truck.

The council, however, has to keep in mind the community is growing. Cities that approach the 100,000 population mark often build community centers that, you got it, rent space for non-profit and private gatherings such as wedding receptions.

About the only solid advice to offer the council is if they are planning a re-election campaign event and they need a hall to rent for a fund-raiser is to avoid the transit center meeting room like the plague.



This column is the opinion of executive 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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