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A $200 million splash
Massive indoor water park part of Great Wolf Resort
This is an artist’s rendering that is a cut-away of what the indoor water park feature of Great Wolf Resort would look like. It is proposed immediately west of Costco along the Highway 120 Bypass. - photo by Rendering contributed

As early as spring of 2012 Manteca could see the opening of a massive 70,000-square-foot indoor water park, a 400-room resort hotel, and a conference center that ultimately will rival Modesto’s in size.

Great Wolf Resorts is proposing a two-phase development on city owned land immediately west of Costco along the Highway 120 Bypass that ultimately would see a six-story, 600-room hotel, the water park expanded to 110,000 square feet making it just smaller than the Manteca Target Store, and a 60,000-quare-foot conference center. The project could ultimately represent a $200 million investment in Manteca, add 500 permanent jobs, draw 400,000 visitors annually, create 1,000 construction jobs, and cement Manteca as a bonafide tourist attraction.

The Manteca City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to prepare a memorandum of understanding with the Colorado-based McWhinney development firm. McWhinney would develop and own the majority of the resort while Great Wolf Resorts would manage and operate it.

AKF Development - acting as consultants for the city - first approached Great Wolf Resorts. A council subcommittee of council members Vince Hernandez and Steve DeBrum hammered out the parameters that are setting the stage for serious negotiations to begin.

More than just a place for people to go down a slide
“Wow,” was the reaction of Councilman John Harris to Tuesday’s council presentation.

“This is an absolutely wonderful project,” added council member Debby Moorhead.

Hernandez and DeBrum indicated the goal was to find a project that got the most bang for the city’s buck.

Great Wolf Resorts Vice president of Business Development Melissa Wheeler echoed the council members’ sentiment noting the issue facing the city was if they wanted “to build something where people can go down slides or something that would be a benefit to the city.”

And it is that benefit that is driving the council’s interest.

Preliminary numbers indicate the room tax on the resort alone could generate between $4 million and $6 million a year without hurting existing hotels that currently bring $342,000 a year in room taxes into city coffers. A $6 million jump in room tax each year would generate enough funds to hire an equivalent of 50 police officers.

Other hotels would not be impacted since to use the water park visitors have to be guests of the resort. The room rates - which haven’t been set for Manteca - typically range from $280 to $300 a night for up to eight people. That includes full use of the water park both the day of their overnight stay and the next day as well.

It would be the second phase of an overall 160-acre family entertainment zone being cobbled together by the city that would end up being built on land that was once bought for use by the adjacent municipal wastewater treatment plant. The BLD sports complex is the first phase of that zone with Great Wolf Resort being the second.

Great Wolf Resort would be located within a mile of California’s first water park - Manteca Waterslides - that was once at the western end of Woodward Avenue south of the Highway 120 Bypass.

12 million consumers within two-hour drive
The Budge Brown family heavily advertised the waterslides during the 30 years they were in existence. Before they closed down in 2004 the waterslides were a popular stop for Bay Area residents and foreign tourists returning from Yosemite.

As such Manteca is still associated strongly with water slides in the minds of many Northern California residents.

Manteca Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Linda Abeldt has noted if a new water park does open it will have instant recognition throughout the north state.

The high interest in the Manteca water park has more to do with three critical factors. First, the city is willing to partner with the right private sector group by providing the land near BLD. The fact BLD books out-of-town tournaments every weekend including Christmas and other holidays from throughout Northern California and draws 450,000 paid spectators a year is also a positive.

 It also has 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.

Great Wolf Resorts made note of Manteca’s location focusing on the number of consumers within an hour to two-hour drive. Their statistics would put Manteca in the top three best locations in the country for an indoor water park. It has a population in that time drive of 12.5 million people with 41 percent of the 4.3 million households having children. The average household income is $69,657.

“With 13 years of operational experience and based on the demographic comparison presented (with Ground Mound in the state of Washington and Poconos in Pennsylvania), we believe Manteca is an excellent market for the Great Wolf Lodge,” noted a conclusion that is part of the Great Wolf presentation to the City Council.

At the time Manteca Waterslides closed in 2004 they held the record for being the longest running water park in California based on the fact they were the first. They were also the largest at the time they closed.

The Brown family was dealing with stiff competition from new water parks in Concord and Roseville that were basically carbon copies of each other and located in urban markets. The drop in business coupled with rising workers compensation costs, the expense of trying to keep up by modernizing even more, and the desire to retire prompted them to put the waterslides on the market.

The only interest was from a developer who envisioned creating a gated water front community known as Oakwood Shores.