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Is the economic splash for real?
Manteca putting Great Wolf plan under microscope
The proposed Great Wolf Resort envisioned on 30 acres just west of Costco along the Highway 120 Bypass. - photo by Photo Contributed
Number crunching - and how much of a positive impact it actually will have on Manteca’s tax base and economy - will make or break the proposed Great Wolf Resort deal.

And should the deal fall through there are other interested water park operators on a much smaller scale but without the resort component waiting in the wings to make a pitch to Manteca.

The Manteca City Council acting as the Redevelopment Agency commission in February is expected to retain the services of a firm with expertise in dissecting financial projections for private sector business plans to develop an independent set of numbers to determine the feasibility of the massive $200 million project. It is similar to what the city did when Big League Dreams made their proposal to help develop and operate the city-owned sports complex. It was only after independent numbers were in hand and tweaking was done to the original BLD proposal due to that outside study that the council felt comfortable enough to move forward with the sports complex.

“Great Wolf has made their pitch now we have to have it (the proposal) looked at and determine if it is worth doing,” said Mayor Willie Weatherford.

The proposal as outlined by Great Wolf Resorts involves a two-phase development on city owned land immediately west of Costco along the Highway 120 Bypass that 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 legitimate tourist attraction.

Great Wolf is shooting for an April or October start for construction assuming everything goes well. Those start dates concede with the start of critical marketing times for the firm. Should a deal go through by April, Manteca could see the opening of a first phase project consisting of a 70,000-square-foot indoor water park, a 400-room resort hotel, and a conference center that ultimately will rival Modesto’s in size by as early as the spring of 2012. The complex would be for guests only although Great Wolf makes accommodations for local access in each of their markets.

And if the numbers don’t work out, there are at least two other firms that want to build standard water parks similar to Raging Waters at Cal Expo in Sacramento who are interested in partnering with the RDA to construct a complex adjacent to the BLD facility.

The Manteca City Council in December authorized 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. The MOU simply confirmed Manteca’s interest and opened the door for more intense number crunching on both sides.

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.

Weatherford noted the goal of the RDA is to maximum job creation as well as generation of tax dollars for the city to help fund municipal services ranging from streets and parks to public safety. The mayor said he personally favors making sure the economic impact drives the project instead of concerns about simply creating additional recreational facilities.

Some residents have argued the city would be better off building a community recreation center or an aquatics center. Traditionally such projects rarely pay for themsleves in terms of charges collected from users. A number of communities across the country have built recreation-water complexes in partnerships between cities and school districts and then charged annual membership fees.

An example is aquatic center in St. George, Utah that charges families $450 a year for membership, $250 for individuals, and $150 for youth.

Typically such municipal complexes cover their staffing costs and some operational expenses with the membership receipts while government tax sources are used for maintenance and to retire debt.

Preliminary numbers based on a special district room tax of 15 percent per night as opposed to the 9 percent levy elsewhere in Manteca indicated the resort alone could generate between $4 million to $6 million a year. By comparison, Manteca’s existing room tax generates $350,000 annually while the city’s share of sales tax receipts is $7.5 million

The room rates - which haven’t been set for Manteca - typically range from $280 to $350 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.