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BLD surpasses projections
Water park may focus attention on complexs financing
Weekend visitors check out the Manteca Big League Dreams sports complex. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin
Kevin Costner couldn’t have scripted a more successful story.

Manteca Big League Dreams - built on a former corn field south of the municipal wastewater treatment plant - continues to top similar complexes in major metropolitan areas such as Las Vegas and Los Angeles to rank No. 1 in attendance, league soccer teams, and softball tournament teams.

“Ownership continues to be amazed at the success of BLD Manteca,” noted Kevin Flora, Vice President of Park Operations for BLD. “It has shown to be a great community that truly appreciates what we offer. Also, our relationship with the staff at the city of Manteca has been wonderful. It has been exciting to see the growth in the city such as Stadium Plaza and Bass Pro Shops and the economic impact that comes with a successful Big League Dreams facility.”

Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford noted that the Stadium Retail Plaza anchored by Kohl’s and Costco simply would not have happened if BLD hadn’t located in Manteca where it did. The reason was simple. While shopping center developers liked the Highway 120 Bypass corridor they wanted to be adjacent to a regional draw which BLD provided.

BLD is now a tenth of the way into a 35-year contract after opening for business 42 months ago. The BLD model is likely to come up again in municipal politics now that the city is pondering using redevelopment agency funds  in some fashion to help develop a water park and aquatic center with additional family entertainment venues on land the city owns west of the 30-acre BLD complex.

Built with $29 million
in redevelopment funds
The complex was built with $29 million in RDA funds. That means all but around $30,000 of the $494,284.70 the city received last year as its share of the gate for BLD could be used to underwrite general fund expenses although a council vote has earmarked the money for recreation facilities. There is nothing legally binding the city not to use that money to help offset recreation costs or even pay for police officers if they so chose.

The $30,000 plus is an annual payment for making additional improvements such as artificial turf and additional improvements to the arena after the original BLD contract was signed.

The original financing models had called for Manteca to use some type of financing that would have been repaid by Manteca’s cut of the receipts., And if BLD failed to generate enough to meet those debt payments, the city would have been on the hook and would have either had to dip into park development fees collected on new growth or tap the general fund to meet borrowing obligations.

Critics, though, point out the RDA funds are borrowed as well. State law requires redevelopment agencies to borrow money first before they can do projects. While it is true the city had the RDA money sitting collecting interest until it was spent on the project, the agency had to borrow against the RDA tax base first.

BLD supporters counter by noting the complex is actually owned by the city and is a community park with a big advantage - municipal taxpayers don’t have to operate it or maintain it for 35 years. That translates into $17 million in savings.

Had the city built and managed a complex similar to the one in Tracy they would have been on the hook for operations and maintenance. From the start, though, BLD supporters on the council conceded the private sector could do better at securing teams and doing what it takes to attract repeat business as they had a financial stake in its success.

Municipal staff initially under now retired Parks and Recreation Director Steve Houx was lukewarm at best about the idea of a private concern taking over what had been a city function.  In the end, municipal recreation staff because some of BLD’s biggest supporters as it has freed up staff to expand other programs and opened up the Northgate Softball Complex that was one dedicated almost exclusively for adult softball for use by youth programs.

What about interest on
original RDA borrowing?
Assuming revenues flowing to the city stay steady at around $460,000 a year which is minus the payment for post-contract upgrades that would bring in $16.1 million over 35 years. Add in the cost avoidance for maintenance and operations over 35 years and you are at $33.1 million.

Critics correctly point out while that exceeds the $29 million investment in RDA money, it doesn’t reflect interest the RDA has to pay on the original bonds.

That argument has been countered by supporters who talk about the ripple effect of spending on everything from hotel rooms and gas to restaurants and attractions by out-of-town visitors that flock to the weekend tournaments. They also add that Manteca has secured top-notch amenities in the softball fields and indoor arena.

BLD exceeds original
financial projections
Municipal leaders use state adopted tourism multipliers but even so the exact figure of ripple impacts isn’t something that can precisely be attained.

Even so, the BLD complex after 42 months of operations has substantially exceeded original revenue, attendance, and tournament projections that were the basis for Manteca going ahead with the $29 million investment.

The sports complex set new records in 2009 surpassing $2.1 million in revenues plus 430,705 in paid attendance. That put Manteca in the position of having the best paid attendance among all BLD complexes from Texas to California.

Originally, BLD projected there would be 32 tournaments a year. Since the gates opened, there has been at least a tournament - if not two or more - every weekend including holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

“Big League Dreams Manteca continues to not only have a tournament each weekend, but they are almost always full to capacity,” Flora said.

Flora anticipates BLD will surpass 430,700 in annual attendance when 2010 ends. They are averaging 1,000 customers during the week and roughly 2,000 on weekends in their two restaurants.

The indoor arena is at full capacity with 124 teams. They also have a staff of 100 employees. The projections were for the BLD complex to ultimately have between 70 and 80 workers.

Flora also oversees a BLD park in Mansfield, Texas that is adjacent to the Hawaiian Falls water park. He sees a nearby water park as another plus for the Manteca BLD complex.

“The biggest impact would simply be that tournament teams will have another fun place of business for entertainment,” Flora said. “That can only help when teams are deciding on which tournament to play each week.”

Flora said BLD believes its business model is what will keep it on top of the heap in terms of attracting teams for league and tournament play.

“Our replicas are what sets us apart from any other facility,” he said. “However, it is the maintenance of the park, from a clean facility and clean restrooms to the quality of the fields and appearance of our graphics on the outfield walls that truly sets Big League Dreams apart from any facility in the country. We realize that these are the things our customers expect.”