Manteca wasn’t known for much of anything that would actually attract visitors 15 years ago.
There were the water slides but they were actually outside of town and south of Lathrop near the western end of Woodward Avenue.
About the only thing most travelers identified with inside Manteca’s physical city limits was the striking odor of the cattle feed lot and sugar beet pulp that helped motorists on Highway 99 and the 120 Bypass know they were passing through Manteca even on dark and foggy winter nights.
It’s a different world today.
Manteca tallied 3.1 million visitors in 2009 thanks to its two major recreation draws - Bass Pro Shops and Big League Dreams sports complex.
“What has happened in Manteca during the past five years is truly amazing,” noted Linda Abeldt who serves as the chief executive officer of the Manteca Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Any time you get even a million visitors a year you’re considered to be doing well as a destination.”
When the CVB was initially formed 15 years ago as an arm of the Manteca Chamber of Commerce, critics considered such a move preposterous due to what they felt was a dearth of tourist or visitor attractions in and around Manteca.
The CVB went aggressively after what is known as the SMERF market - sports, military, education, religious, and fraternal organizations - that had small to medium-sized gatherings.
When BLD entered the picture four years ago, the CVB directed its focus more toward recreation sports to piggyback on the weekend tournaments that just last year drew a paid gate of 430,705 from throughout Northern California and Nevada.
The decision for Bass Pro Shops to locate a store in Manteca that typically draws from a 100-mile radius prompted the CVB to dive deeply into promoting recreation-related activities ranging from assisting with NorCal youth soccer tournaments at the eight soccer fields - including lighted facilities - at Woodward Park to the NorCal Senior Games.
They also are working in tandem with promoters to bring NorCal events to the new BMX facility when it opens in the spring. The goal of all of their efforts is to secure visitor dollars and to fill Manteca hotel rooms.
The CVB has rolled out a new slogan - Hook, Wine & Sneakers - to emphasize outdoor recreation opportunities, the area wineries, and participatory sport venues.
The decision by Craig Realty to open upscale outlet store starting this spring at The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley prompted the CVB to open a visitors center in the complex in late January. It is the only visitors’ center between Sacramento and Merced.
Abeldt said if Manteca secures a developer for a water park it would only further enhance Manteca’s appeal for visitors.
“Until we get venues large enough to hold large meetings, our best bet is developing the recreational sports market,’ Abeldt noted.
The CVB is still working on a long-range plan to develop a 5,000-seat amphitheatre and events center.