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Keeping other suitors at bay
Great Wolf seeks extension of exclusive negotiating deal until June 2016
great wolf photo
A room at a Great Wolf Lodge. - photo by Photo Contributed

The Great Wolf howling at Manteca’s door wants to make sure the city doesn’t have its designs on a rival.

The City of Manteca, likewise, doesn’t want the Great Wolf courting other cities within a 90-minute radius.

That’s why on Tuesday the City Council is being asked to extend an exclusive negotiating agreement with McWhinney Development. The firm wants to build a Great Wolf Lodge indoor water park resort and hotel on 30 acres of city-owned property directly west of the Costco store. If approved, the exclusive negotiating arrangement will continue through June 30, 2016.

Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford believes that a final decision by the City Council won’t be made on his watch. Weatherford, who is not seeking re-election, will end a 12-year run as mayor the first week of December.

The mayor has gone on record several times in the past expressing concern the review process was dragging on too long. The city initially started talks with Great Wolf representatives 42 months ago. He believes the city gummed up the process by tying the Great Wolf into a larger proposed family entertainmnt zone.

Even so, Weatherford is confident there is a way the city can move forward without putting it at any type of financial risk. Weatherford has always made it clear he’d vote against the project if the final proposal did not have ironclad guarantees that would insulate Manteca from any financial responsibility in the event the resort fails to meet projections needed to cover financing for public infrastructure associated with the project.

City Manager Karen McLaughlin noted environmental impact report studies will be finished in July and be ready for public review by fall for both the Great Wolf and proposed family entertainment zone. All of it involves city owned land.

McLaughlin, municipal staff, and council members Steve DeBrum and Vince Hernandez have been meeting with McWhinney representatives to hammer out a deal involving the city land and infrastructure financing. McLaughlin said the council can’t consider what is being proposed for possible formal approval until such time as the environmental studies are completed and an EIR adopted.

McLaughlin is confident that the proposal will go before the council by November for approval or rejection.

McWhinney is basing negotiations on a 290,000-square-foot hotel with 500 rooms – with a possible future expansion of 200 rooms – along with an 85,000-square-foot indoor water park and a 20,000-square-foot conference center. A possible expansion would add 79,000 square feet to the water park and double the size of the conference center.

McWhinney and the Apollo Group that acquired Great Wolf Resorts several years ago project a 71.1 percent occupancy rate as being reasonable and conservative.

Based on that, Manteca would have a positive cash flow of $1.4 million a year initially into its municipal coffers from room taxes, sales taxes and property taxes directly tied into Great Wolf after annual debt payments are made. At 71.1 percent occupancy, the city’s receipts keep escalating annually, reaching $3.6 million in 2030. Then in 2045, when the bonds are paid off, Manteca could see $7.1 million flowing into municipal coffers to help pay for everything from police and fire to parks.

McLaughlin in the past has stressed that Manteca has made it absolutely clear to McWhinney that it won’t put the taxpayers on the hook for even a penny of any bond debt connected with Great Wolf’s public infrastructure.

That way if the resort water park swims, Manteca will be in the money along with having helped create 414 permanent jobs and 156 part-time jobs with an annual payroll of $9.4 million and the overflow spending of 400,000 yearly visitors.

If it sinks, then Manteca is out nothing but it would have infrastructure for private sector use as well as a big private sector project that investors would make sure was put to some use so they could get their money back.

The City Council meets Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.