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Numbers Great Wolf is howling over
Household income, regional population enticing developer
The potential Great Wolf Resort site. - photo by RYAN BALBUENA

To build or not to build.

That is the question Great Wolf Resorts owners - the mega private equity group that encompasses notable companies such as AMC Entertainment, Caesars Entertainment Corporation, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Coldwell Banker, Century 21, and Carl’s Jr. - along with partner McWhinney Development of Colorado are pondering.

The bait that is keeping Great Wolf interested in Manteca are more than 3 million pass-through tourists and visitors to Manteca attractions such as Bass Pro Shops and Big League Dreams that fit the targeted market for the indoor water park. As a whole, such potential customers fit the family and income profiles needed to make a 605-suite Great Wolf Resort such as in Grapevine , Texas work where daily rooms rates are $309.99 to $499.99 for up to eight people and includes full access to that location’s 88,000-square-foot indoor water park and 84,000-square-foot outdoor water park.

Making Manteca equally enticing are the 17 million consumers within a 100-mile radius. That has allowed Dell’Osso Farms, as an example, draw upwards of 140,000 people a year during October to the Pumpkin Maze and related attractions in Lathrop that were first launched 15 years ago.

The proposed Manteca indoor water park that could have as many as 600 hotel rooms and a conference center reflects an investment of up to $200 million. Great Wolf projects a $9.4 million annual payroll with 414 permanent jobs and 156 part-time jobs. They also expect 400,000 annual visitors that would pay motel room taxes in excess of $4 million each year.

Great Wolf Manteca hinges on whether a development deal can be negotiated that works for to the two firms and the City of Manteca. Key to that is whether it makes economic sense and is on solid enough footing to minimize financial risk to the city.

The city owns the 30 acres directly west of Costco where Great Wolf wants to build. The developers want the city’s participation to some degree. And while what that is hasn’t been determined or revealed, the city is examining various ways of financing infrastructure and even a possible partnership for the conference center portion of the project that at 60,000 square feet would rival Modesto’s.

And whatever comes out of closed door negotiations, it will rank as one of the biggest decisions facing the City Council in the coming months.

Great Wolf first approached the city 18 months ago. The council at that time agreed to enter into negotiations. Even with the loss of redevelopment agency funds to possible underwrite infrastructure to access the cost such as roads, sewer, water and drainage, the city and Great Wolf remain committed to devise some type of proposal that ultimately will have to pass muster with the City Council.

What has gotten Great Wolf to zero in on Manteca

What has kept Great Wolf’s eye on Manteca is contained in an analysis done by the economic consulting firm of AECOM.

That study notes:

•Sixty percent of Yosemite National Park traffic passes through Manteca each year via the 120 Bypass. That represents 780,000 vehicles. That reflects just under 3 percent of the 29.2 million vehicles that use the 120 Bypass in any given year

•The “Greater Manteca Region” that includes Stockton, Modesto and adjacent cities has about 2.4 million overnight and pass-through leisure visitors annually.

•The dollars spent by tourists in San Joaquin County in 2009 had 39 percent going to gas, 20.7 percent to food sales, 15.5 percent to retail sales, 10.9 percent to arts and entertainment, 9.3 percent to accommodations, and 4.7 percent to food stores.

•Fifty percent of the domestic tourists visiting Manteca are from the Bay Area with the rest split between northern and southern California.

•Almost 70 percent of the domestic visitors come to Manteca for some form of leisure while the rest do so for business.

•The average domestic overnight visitors spends 1.9 nights in the Manteca area with the average party consisting of 2.5 people.

•The average international tourist - usually headed for Yosemite - spends 1.5 nights in the Manteca area. The majority of international visitors passing through Manteca though do so, for a short stop or as part of a day trip to Yosemite 75 mile to the east.

•There are roughly 13.6 million residents as of 2009 in “The Greater Manteca Region.” That includes 957,192 in the primary market of a 30 minute drive or less and 2,645,307 within a 30 to 60 minute drive.

The secondary market includes Sacramento, Contra Costa, Alameda, and Merced counties as well as large chunks of Sacramento and much of the East Bay including Oakland.

•The average income in the primary market is $64,859. The average income in Manteca’s secondary market is $93,170. The median household income in California is $83,047 based on 2009 statistics.

•The median age ranges from 32.1 years in the primary market and 35.2 years for the secondary market making it well suited for family orientated actives.