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A sure thing set aside to go after Great Wolf deal

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POSTED October 18, 2013 12:58 a.m.

How Great Wolf Resorts came knocking on Manteca’s door three years ago is the result of what Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford might describe as a blown opportunity.

When word got out that the city was trying to build on the golden reputation of the now defunct Manteca Waterslides by looking for someone to build a water park on municipal land, they quickly snagged the attention of the folks who built the Roseville Sunsplash complex.

The backers of Sunsplash were willing to invest $7 million in waterslides in Manteca. That was on the proviso that a sweet deal would be made for the land that was city owned.

The attraction that Manteca held was four-fold. Manteca Waterslides still has strong name recognition years after its demise. Manteca is centrally located to a million people within a 30-minute drive.  The location has high-profile freeway exposure along the 120 Bypass. And the Manteca site is next door to a Big League Dreams sports complex.

The proximity to the BLD complex was perhaps the biggest pull. A water parks-BLD combo in Mansfield, Texas was a big hit as the two complexes were a 1-2 punch in delivering young families with expendable income who combined baseball tournaments with a trip to a water park. Often times teams with long gaps between tournament games or after a day’s play would head on over to the Hawaiian Falls water park bringing their families with them.

In all likelihood a Sunspalsh water park could have been up and running right now providing upwards of 150 seasonal jobs while adding a family recreation venue. It wouldn’t have increased hotel room stays

Then along came McWhinney Development with the offer of the equivalent of the golden calf — a Great Wolf Resort.

Based on data from various jurisdictions, a 400-room hotel with Great Wolf’s trademark indoor water park that is a year-round operation instead of seasonal can bring in between $2 million and $4 million a year to a city in new hotel room taxes. It also brings with it 500 year-round jobs attached to a $10 million annual payroll.

Instead of piggybacking on an attraction like BLD, Great Wolf Resorts are their own attraction.

The destination resort can cost up to $320 night for a suite, But that is a room for eight people with water park privileges for two days. Sunsplash costs $28 for a full-day of operations or 7.5 hours. Based on Great Wolf prices with eight people to a suite, you get two days per person of water park use or up to 20 hours for $40. As such, Great Wolf is actually less expensive per day and it comes with a suite.

Great Wolf and Sunsplash are two different animals. They also target two distinct audiences.

And you could argue given the 18 million people within a 100-mile radius of Manteca and the fact many of them could afford to do fairly expensive excursions during the Great Recession such as go on family ski trips, the Great Wolf model might be more solid than for the average outdoor water park.

Manteca council members such as Vince Hernandez and Steve DeBrum see Great Wolf as a potential opportunity to secure significant funding of between $2 million to $4 million a year to pay for municipal services such as police, fire, parks and streets. Better yet, those paying for the services would be non-Manteca residents.

But Hernandez and DeBrum, who are the council representatives joining staff in negotiations, have made it clear it has to make sense for Manteca and have minimal risk.

Manteca obviously has land in the deal that could have a value in excess of $30 million. Not bad for what was once viewed as relatively worthless land set aside for the wastewater treatment plant.

The city through residual RDA funds also is making off-site improvements that a major developer would have to participate in to some to degree if the 30 acres were being used for homes instead of a resort.

As it stands, Manteca is probably bringing close to $40 million to the table that doesn’t put taxpayers at risk to leverage what Great Wolf representatives indicated at one point could be a $200 million investment if a hotel of up to 600 rooms is built.

Where negotiations go from there is yet to be seen.

But one thing is sure. Great Wolf coming into the game will be given concessions few others would get. And after the Garden Grove deal it is clear they may be eying some other funding such as a chunk of the motel room tax they would generate. If that is the case, Manteca should be careful not to act like a gambler trying to get a better hand should Great Wolf up the ante to a point where it dilutes the impact of the hotel room tax. If the game gets to that point, Manteca should fold, walk away from the table, and wait for the exclusive negotiating agreement with Great Wolf to expire and go after a traditional water park.

After all, as the mayor notes, that may just be the sure thing.



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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