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Mayor dislikes Garden Groves Great Wolf deal
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If Great Wolf Resorts wants to build in Manteca they won’t get Mayor Willie Weatherford’s vote if the deal is like the one resort developer McWhinney Development struck with Garden Grove in Southern California.

That deal involved $69 million in public funds and land going to McWhinney to build a 600-room hotel, indoor water park, and 18,000 square feet of retail.

Weatherford, though, isn’t likely to have any say in the matter. That’s because negotiations with McWhinney to build a 400-room version of a Great Wolf Resort in Manteca on city owned property minus the retail component are expected to take another year. Weatherford isn’t running for re-election. Based on current timetables the council in all likelihood won’t be asked to make a decision until after the November 2014 election. Great Wolf first approached Manteca about building here in December of 2010.

The mayor said he is against any direct tax dollar subsidy of the Great Wolf project. He added that sharing the projected room tax that could be between $4 million and $6 million a year with Great Wolf is out of the question unless it was something that closed a deal and only if the amount was less than 20 percent, had a cap to it, and it was tied to the resort’s performance and how it was delivering financially for the city and not the other way around.

And if the city puts its 30 acres just west of Costco on the table to lure Great Wolf, Weatherford doesn’t want it to be a gift. Instead he believes it should be in a long-term lease arrangement that even if it is at a token annual cost the city would still be able to collect property taxes.

Weatherford said any deal the city makes should be structured in such a manner “that we give up only part of something the city otherwise would not have gotten” if another user was to locate on the 30 acres.

That said, Weatherford said he would support a Great Wolf deal if it didn’t include “free” subsidizes and delivers on private sector jobs and revenue for the city.

City Manager Karen McLaughlin said a Garden Grove deal wouldn’t happen in Manteca as she wouldn’t advance any plan that consists of free money or puts the taxpayers at risk.

McLaughlin noted that the details of how Great Wolf would be financed aren’t known as talks between the city and McWhinney haven’t reached that point. Two council members — Vince Hernandez and Steve DeBrum — are involved in those talks. Both are facing election in November of 2014.

McLaughlin cautioned that both the Garden Grove Great Wolf proposal as well as Garden Grove’s financial situation are different than the Manteca resort proposal as well as Manteca’s finances.

The Garden Grove project has 200 more rooms, a retail component, and a parking structure and would sit on 12 acres.

The Manteca proposal has 400 rooms in addition to Great Wolf’s signature indoor water park. It would also include a conference center and would be on 30 acres. The $200 million price tag for the Manteca project is lower than the cost of building in Garden Grove.

Garden Grove had included funding for the Great Wolf project as part of its redevelopment agency bond issuance before the state pulled the plug on RDAs. As such, that money — some $37 million — is available to give to McWhinney.

Manteca does have RDA money left but it is restricted to other uses. However, McLaughlin noted they could be considered as part of the overall puzzle to develop Great Wolf and the overall 140 acres of wastewater treatment plant property the city is seeking to turn into an economic juggernaut.

Four of the five RDA projects moving forward during the next year impact the 140 acres. The McKinley Avenue interchange and Milo Candini Drive extension to Yosemite Avenue address traffic circulation that would be connected with a Great Wolf project. The community park project could add a soccer field or other such improvements to the envisioned family entertainment zone sandwiched by the Great Wolf site and the Big League Dreams sports complex. McLaughlin said it is possible that the south Manteca infrastructure project for sewer, storm and water lines and such  could also be tied into the 140 acres.

McLaughlin said there are ways to put development bonds in place that are tied exclusively to Great Wolf and don’t encumber the city or taxpayers.

At any rate, McLaughlin emphasizes the taxpayers will not be on the hook for any deal that could get inked if the Great Wolf project moves forward.