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Spreckels Park is finally ‘completed’
ProLogis has bought one of the last two parcels in Spreckels Park to build a 304,390-square-foot distribution center.

They said it couldn’t be done.

Almost 22 years to the day Mike Atherton, Bing Kirk, and Bill Fiolos stepped up to the plate during what some described as Manteca’s darkest hour in the 1990s, arguably the sweetest redevelopment project in California history has been completed.

AKF Development has sold the final two parcels in Spreckels Park — the 362-acre multi-use development that rose from the rubble of the shuttered namesake sugar refinery. ProLogis has purchased the parcel between American Modular System and J&M Equipment for a 304,390-square-foot distribution center. The other parcel adjacent to the historical plaza behind Chevron has been sold to a Modesto investor.

Those are two of the only three parcels that haven’t been developed. There are approved plans for a business park condo style building behind Home Depot and across from a storm retention basin next to the Ford Motor Co. Small Parts Distribution Center.

Many thought AKF was

doomed to fail & that

Spreckels Park was a folly

There were more than a few people back in 1998 who outright stated that the four 15-story silos would stand for decades as a high profile blight on Manteca and that the three developers — Atherton and Kirk were primarily home builders at the time and Filios has worked for AG Spanos building shopping centers and apartment complexes — were way out of their league and doomed to fail.

They failed so spectacularly they created Manteca’s largest business park to date, made possible 2,400 jobs, put in place Manteca’s second most robust retail area, and did what has not happened anywhere else in California — the complete demolition of a shuttered sugar refinery.

Spreckels Sugar was built the year Manteca incorporated as a city. It was the community’s largest private sector employer for decades although by the time it closed on Jan. 9, 1996 it had slipped to the bottom of the top 10 with 230 full-time and part-time workers.

The gloom and doom the closure brought about can’t be overemphasized. 

Spreckels Sugar that developed into a global empire on the strength of the California endeavors of German immigrant Claus Spreckels had been decimated. It had fallen victim to ever tightening air quality standards for the San Joaquin Valley, cheaper labor at sugar refineries in Texas and Louisiana, foreign government subsidized sugar imports, and the soda beverage industry’s shift from sugar to fruticose.

And while Holly Sugar in Tracy hung on for several more harvest seasons, its closure would not be as catastrophic on that community as Spreckels’ demise was on Manteca.

Plant closure created major

blight at Manteca’s front door

The plant’s closure was a 362-acre blight at the most high profile spot in Manteca where the 120 Bypass meets Highway 99. No one had ever successfully demolished a sugar factory in California — and still haven’t as soaring empty concrete sugar silos stand as proof in places like Tracy, Woodland and Spreckels just outside of Salinas.

There was the accumulation of 78 years of lime, the byproduct of the sugar refining process. It was made more problematic given for decades Spreckels leased part of the site to the Moffat Beef Lot. It was a beneficial arrangement for Spreckels as the cattle were fattened with sugar beet pulp. But the fact the feed lot — that at times temporarily held upwards of 10,000 head of cattle — was in existence for decades there was the added issue of the ground being saturated with lots of manure.

Toss in the fact there were four 15-story silos, a factory, and warehouses to demolish and dispose of, developers took one look and kept going. Banks saw it as way too big of a risk.

The firm that has acquired the Spreckels Sugar holdings at one point sought city approval to keep the silos intact and convert the remaining property with housing and a 9-hole golf course. Lenders were underwhelmed with the plan. The firm’s bid to shop the property to other developers was fruitless as every developer had major concerns about possible hidden costs related to environmental clean-up as well as the expense of demolishing the refinery, warehouse, and silos.

If a LA lift manufacturer

didn’t seek to buy firm

making motors, Spreckels

Park may never of happened

A Los Angeles firm manufacturing factory lifts wanted to buy a company that the successor to Spreckels owned that produced motors that they used for their lifts. The deal had one string attached — they had to buy the Manteca Spreckels property as well.

 It was at that point that Ron Cheek — a former City of Manteca public works director who had been working for years in the private sector as a land development consultant — approached Atherton. Cheek was hired by the firm that had acquired Spreckels site along with the motor manufacturing concern to devise the initial development plan for the site that was DOA.

Atherton, who has a reputation of being a visionary thinker that some would argue could be borderline dreaming at times, went to Amherst, New York to make his pitch.

He came back with a deal that allowed him and his partners to try and develop the site that allowed them to pay for the land as they secured development deals.

They had to clear one significant hurdle: They had already taken on great financial risk and burned through substantial money preparing the site for development leaving little in the way of resources they needed to put in place key infrastructure essential to market and develop the interior of the business park. The sections along Yosemite Avenue — the Food-4-Less store anchoring the first phase of Spreckles Marketplace, Chevron, Jack-in-the-Box and Home Depot — could be developed as they relied on existing infrastructure. Banks would not lend to them even with what success AKF had already enjoyed.

That is when they approached the City of Manteca for a $7 million redevelopment agency loan.

City staff skeptical, two

fifths of council opposed

RDA $7M loan for project

The reception was less than enthusiastic. The city manager at the time, Bob Adams, viewed the project as being fraught with excessive risk. The council led by Mayor Bill Perry was more supportive but by the time AKF was in a positon to seek execution of the RDA loan agreement; Carlon Perry had been elected mayor and Denise Giordano to the City Council. Both opposed RDA in general as corporate welfare and were dead set against Manteca RDA getting involved with the Spreckels project. Even though staff had expressed reservations, after a 3-2 vote where Perry and Giordano came up on the losing end the $7 million vote was executed.

Atherton 21 years ago said the project was do-able in 20 years but he anticipated it being done in half that time. Staff was still expressing reservations and warned it could be a 30 to 40 year undertaking.

Atherton came close to being right, the economy was booming just after the dawn of the 21st century. The RDA loan to complete Spreckels Avenue and extend water, sewer and storm drains was paid back in full with interest three years ahead of schedule. It was the only major RDA loan ever executed by the city that got every dime back plus interest instead of forgiving part or all money loaned based on performance targets such as job creation and increased sales tax. Then, with Spreckels Park 90 percent completed after nine years including the 166-home Curran Grove neighborhood, the Great Recession hit.

Spreckels Park gave RDA

bonding capacity major boost

The Spreckels Park project was a textbook case of what RDA was supposed to do. It took a shuttered sugar refinery that no private sector lenders would sign on to, eliminated blight, increased the jobs that were lost 11-fold, and stimulated the local economy.

The shot-in-the-arm that the assessed value of the Spreckels Park development gave the RDA with essentially 100 percent of all new value being placed on the RDA tax rolls can’t be over emphasized. One $25 million distribution center alone generated $250,000 in RDA taxes.

The project significantly enhanced the bonding capacity of the Manteca RDA bankrolling the major part of the agency’s investment in the Big League Dreams sports complex, the infrastructure needed to extend Daniels Street initially and now to McKinley Avenue to allow the securing of the Stadium Retail Center-Costco along with the Great Wolf Resort, two major affordable housing complexes, and the Union Road interchange project.

The two real estate transactions and the handing over the private landscape maintenance district that handles bike path maintenance and common landscaping to Manzanita Properties, effectively completes the Spreckels Sugar plan.

98 percent of sugar

refinery was recycled

The key to the successful conversion of the site into a multi-purpose development required finding the right “recipe” to handle the gigantic piles of lime and the manure laden soil so that the ground could be made suitable for development. Once they came up with the right formula six giant mixers were operated for months to make the soil suitable.

When everything was torn down or imploded, more than 98 percent of the material was recycled. Among the bigger items saw the steel going to an Oakland recycler, the bricks being snapped up for residential and commercial use, and the concrete silos being ground up and used as base for the widening of Highway 99 between Ripon and Manteca from four to six lanes.

The project also gave Manteca the ability to develop the Spreckels Park BMX track in one of the project’s two storm retention basins.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email