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Great Wolf, BLD send message to private sector: Manteca is the place in NorCal MegaRegion that caters to families
great wolf
Rendering of the Great Wolf Resort that is now being built.

The $180 million billboard in the form of the six-story, 500-room Great Wolf Lodge indoor water park  is positioned to be a game changer for Manteca.

Due to open in mid-2020 the massive hotel — the largest in the Central Valley that stretches from Redding to Bakersfield — is already putting Manteca on the economic investment map when it comes to chasing family activity dollars.

Bidding that closed recently on an online auction of three properties bought by the now-defunct Manteca Redevelopment Agency generated 30 bids that staff is now sorting through. There were also 5,000 hits on the auction site as well as 500 downloads of more detailed document such as appraisals. The biggest interest by far was for a 3.1-acre parcel on the northwest corner pf Airport Way and Daniels Street.

“With the 500-room hotel going in down the street it generated a lot of attention,” noted City of Manteca Economic Development Specialist Don Smail.

Smail noted Great Wolf is the type of company that most others in the recreation, entertainment, lodging, and restaurant businesses pay attention to what they are doing.

“They have the resources to do extensive demographic research,” Smail said.

Given they are a resort that operates with a basic 100-mile draw much like Bass Pro Shops just two miles to the east along the 120 Bypass and that they cater to families primarily with young children with robust household income, wherever Great Wolf  decides to build it draws a lot of attention.

It is much like Burger King’s expansion strategy in the 1990s. The burger chain’s leadership determined the best approach to deciding to where to build new locations was to piggyback on McDonald’s decision making. McDonald’s not only was  — and still is — the fast food leader, but they spent consider money vetting the demographics, traffic patterns and such of various markets in order to get in that position.

Manteca’s location — roughly equal distance from San Jose, San Francisco/Oakland, and Sacramento — in the Northern California MegaRegion with 18 million consumers is what brought Big League Dreams, Bass Pro Shops, and now Great Wolf to The Family City.

It is not by accident that when Great Wolf launches its multi-million dollar media blitz on TV, social media, and radio promoting The Family City location that they intend to make a strong tie between Manteca and San Francisco.

“This is their Northern California resort,” Smail said.

And given the fact San Francisco is the highest profile city in the region, the tie in is a natural to lure visitors from out-of-state or international tourists to include Great Wolf in Manteca as part of their Northern California itinerary

The city did not seek out Bass Pro but it did intentionally go after BLD and Great Wolf. They are part of a greater plan that was formulated after BLD was in place and when a previous council started exploring ways to lure a Raging Waters type of waterpark to Manteca. That plan is to develop 120 plus acres as a Family Entertainment Zone that is routinely called “The FEZ” by city leaders.

“The city didn’t know it at the time but when they built BLD it became the anchor for The FEZ concept,” Smail said.

The Manteca ballpark continues to be the most successful BLD complex in California.

Smail noted that even though Redding has its own BLD complex that a number of teams from the area travel to Manteca to play in tournaments “because this is where the best teams compete.”

That is due to the complex’s central location in a region of 18 million consumers.

Traveling youth teams typically have players from households with strong demographics given the cost of participating and the amount of travel. It is the same type of family Great Wolf wants to lure.

Other firms — restaurants, entertainment venues, and even hotels — want to capture the same market.

The Great Wolf will have a 12,000-square-foot conference center that can accommodate up to 500 people as well as a 2,000-square-foot outdoor area that is suited for events such as cheer competition.

Smail said Great Wolf has noted a significant number of those attending gatherings at resort conference centers do not have children and opt to stay at other nearby hotels. That is among the reasons why Staybridge Suites is pursuing a four-story, 101 room hotel nearby on the southeast corner of Daniels Street and Fishback Avenue near Sizzler’s.

And while a number of Manteca residents have expressed the belief that Great Wolf is designed primarily four visitors, Smail noted the resort is likely to attract venues and restaurants nearby that a city the size of Manteca would not necessarily be in the running to land. That is in addition to various restaurants and family play features such as climbing walls and laser tag to bowling that the public can access. Smail noted Great Wolf has also instituted a “pass program” that is available for purchase without booking a room on days when the hotel does not have full occupancy.

Smail noted venues that locate in the FEZ may cater primarily to visitors on the weekend but it also means they would be  available under less crowded conditions for locals during the week.

Manteca’s decision to go after family entertainment dollars on such a large scale sets it apart from any other city in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. The effort was driven by a bid to create jobs and generate more city revenue and pump up the Manteca economy. Great Wolf by itself will have 500 jobs including 250 fulltime positions.

And it may not have been by designed, but the family entertainment sector is proving to be more robust than brick and mortar  retail given its resilience on several levels. It is a commodity that can’t be ordered or experienced online. And as the Great Recession proved, a Great Wolf style attraction does better in economic downturns compared to typical tourist destinations as staycations — short vacations with a region — gain in popularity.

An illustration was the success of Bear Valley Ski Resort while more renowned ski destinations experienced a drop off in skiers. That’s because fairly well positioned households in the Bay Area forsook expensive week-long trips to place like Vail in terms of more — and less expensive trips — to north state ski resorts.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email