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Ex-mayor: Revenue, impact, cost avoidance makes BLD a winner
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Players exchange high fives after a BLD adult league game.

The City of Manteca — in baseball vernacular — “parked it” — when they opened the Big League Dreams sports complex 12 years ago as far as former Mayor Willie Weatherford is concerned.

At almost one-third of the way into a 35-year contract that has a 10-year option to extend with BLD, the private operator of the city-owned baseball and indoor soccer complex has paid Manteca $4.917 million in 11 years. That is running nearly 10 percent better than projections.

By BLD operating and maintaining the complex Manteca has avoided $5.5 million in annual costs so far. 

And if BLD teams are responsible for filling up 30 percent of the available hotel rooms in Manteca during any given week, the complex is responsible for generating $360,000 annually in room taxes of the $1.2 million the city collects annually. That is in addition to the economic impact of players and fans that attend tournaments that have been booked for every weekend since BLD opened in late September of 2007 by spending money in restaurants, gas stations, and stores.

That means in an average year Manteca’s general fund is seeing just over a $1.2 million positive impact — $740,000 in revenue and $500,000 in cost avoidance. And because the redevelopment agency receipts were used to build the $30 million complex Manteca doesn’t have to worry about repaying general obligation bonds that cities such as Tracy typically float to build a sports complex. That means municipal services aren’t impacted by the general fund having to cover debt payment if growth fees for community parks come up short.

Weatherford — who took the bulk of the hits from critics during the seven years Manteca went through the approval, negotiation, and construction process that included dozens upon dozens of marathon council meetings with one last as long 8½ hours as well as a lawsuit over traffic impacts filed by the City of Lathrop — said BLD was a linchpin that set the stage for other private sector investments.

“There wouldn’t be a shopping center (Costco and the Retail Stadium Center anchored by Kohl’s) on Airport Way,” Weatherford said.

Weatherford — who served 12 years as mayor — noted the success of BLD with tournaments booked every week year round and nearly 500,000 annual spectators caught the attention of firms such as Great Wolf Lodge that is getting ready to start construction on a 500-room hotel and indoor waterpark resort just to the southwest of BLD.

And by using a private-public partnership to operate and maintain the BLD complex and not sinking park fees into it — the park fees that were spent on indoor soccer arena upgrades were paid back by BLD in addition to the basic rent payment agreement — Weatherford said the city was able to afford to develop Woodward Park.

Weatherford said his belief that the conservative financial projections made sense prompted him to pursue the BLD concept, but it was a conversation he had with Jim Rachels who had traveled with a  group of people to the original Southern California BLD  complex to check it out that kept him going.

“When we got back I asked if he thought Manteca deserved (a BLD complex),” Weatherford recalled. “Jim said ‘Manteca deserves (a BLD complex) and more.”

The Manteca site continues to lead all BLD complexes in terms of revenue and attendance.

Before the BLD sports complex that includes six replica fields, an indoor soccer arena, two restaurants, and batting cages were built the Manteca Parks and Recreation staff ran adult softball leagues at Northgate Park.

The fees paid by teams basically covered scorekeepers, officials, and the costs of other manpower to run the leagues. Maintenance of the field — watering, mowing, prepping for games, and repairs —was not covered.

The city-owned sports complex is being leased for 35 years by Big League Dreams. Not only are they responsible for running leagues but they also are required to maintain and repair the complex. The net operational cost to the city is zero for 35 years. 

Unlike traditional municipal baseball complexes, there is no loan or bond to pay back using general fund revenue. The RDA funds were from bonds that are being repaid with property tax tied specifically to new growth that occurred in the agency’s boundaries. The state has since ended RDAs. Taxes committed to repay the bonds will be split between various taxing agencies once the debt is retired.

Local leagues that draw players as far away as the Bay Area and Sacramento play during the week. The key to the BLD success, though, has been their ability to book tournaments every weekend since play started in the fall of 2007.

By using RDA money to build the sports complex Manteca also:

uwas able to secure an indoor soccer arena.

ufree up the Northgate softball complex for youth play.

umade it possible to revamp Morezone Field that was originally built for adult softball on Center Street for senior division Little League play.

udivert park fees collected on growth to developing Woodward Park amenities instead of building new adult softball fields.

And while the city had tournaments previously at Northgate Park, the frequency was nowhere near BLD’s plus the drawing power due to the facilities and its location equidistance from Sacramento, San Jose, and San Francisco has helped draw teams and spectators that helped triple hotel room occupancy in Manteca in the first two years it was in operation.

Revenue from BLD lease payments and room taxes attributed to the sports complex, Manteca’s general fund will take in roughly $26 million over 35 years. That is in addition to avoiding $17.5 million in operational and maintenance costs.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email