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RDA along with Spreckels demise helped sweeten Manteca economy
The four 15-story Spreckels park silos that were imploded in 1997. - photo by DENNIS WYATT

It was a bleak January 17 years ago.

Manteca’s marquee employer - Spreckels Sugar - was closing after an 80-year run. The economics of processing sugar beets especially in California with its ever toughening air quality standards doomed the plant.

Out of those dark days, though, rose the economic engine that generated redevelopment agency taxes to drive Manteca’s economy into the 21st century. The demise of Spreckels ended up paving the way for Bass Pro Shops, the Stadium Retail Center anchored by Costco, and Big league Dreams as well as five major housing initiatives for low-income seniors and working class families

Spreckels in 1996 was no longer Manteca’s biggest employer. It‘s 200 full-time and seasonal jobs didn’t even make the Top 10 list. Spreckels and Manteca though had been intertwined for eight decades. The four 15-foot story silos represented prosperity. But when the closure announcement came many feared the silos would become a cancerous blight right at the highest profile location in Manteca where the 120 Bypass meets Highway 99.

Manteca’s leaders, though, had an ace in the hole in the form of the Manteca Redevelopment Agency. Then City Manager David Jinkens along with the council that was led by the late Mayor Bill Perry were able to use the blight fighting and economic development tool created by the California Legislature to make a private sector plan work that was aimed at converting the 362-acre plant site into a multi-use development with large distribution centers, retail, and housing.

All private sector developers save Mike Atherton and Bing Kirk avoided the site like the plague. Developers liked the location but were scared off by the cost of demolition and the unknown namely whether there were toxic chemicals in the ground.

Banks wouldn’t finance any effort.

RDA was the linchpin that allowed Spreckels Park to get off the ground

Atherton and Kirk - who were joined by Bill Filios to form AKF Development - were able to cobble together money from investors but it wasn’t enough to take it beyond perimeter development along Yosemite Avenue and Moffat Boulevard. They were able to demolish the plant recycling  98 percent of the material. The crushed concrete from the silos, for example, was used as the road base  when Highway 99 was widened to six lanes between Ripon and Manteca. The environmental work cost less than $1 million. The partnership went through millions of dollars and still hadn’t a cent to show. There was interest but no firm wanted to consider Spreckels Park until improvements such as streets and utilities were in place. That’s because companies want sites they could start building on immediately and not wait six months to a year.

That’s where an $8 million RDA loan came into play. The money was used to build Spreckels Avenue and other interior streets as well as put in place sewer and water lines.  Developable business park and retail parcels became available just as the economy took off.

AKF Development repaid the RDA loan with interest and ahead of schedule.

The repaid loans plus what over $140 million in new property added to the RDA rolls could leverage allowed Manteca to extend Daniels Street and put infrastructure in place that made the Stadium Retail Center possible. It also financed Big League Dreams which in turn - through its runaway success coming out of the gate - caught the attention of Poag & McEwen that brought Bass Pro Shops to Manteca.

It also helped finance three low-income subsidized senior citizens apartment complexes as well as the work force housing complex dubbed Juniper Apartments that opened last year with 152 units along Atherton Drive. The receipts also helped swell the funds available to help low-income Manteca families purchase homes as well as to help low-income seniors make health and safety repairs to their homes.

Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford noted none of that would have happened if it hadn’t been for the RDA.

Still $43.6M in RDA funds Manteca can spend to fuel economy

Last January, the plug was finally pulled on RDAs up and down the state by the California Legislature. Property tax beyond debt repayment was diverted to the state’s general fund to help cover the perennial state budget deficits.

Even so, RDA may still play a role in positioning Manteca for the next surge in the economy in the form of $43.6 million to invest in infrastructure.

It is money that was set aside for capital improvements but not spent when the California Legislature disbanded redevelopment agencies.

Follow-up state legislation protected such unspent RDA funds generated from long-term debt from being seized by the state. It will be returned to the city but cannot be spent without the blessing of both the local oversight board put in place to monitor the successor agency to the RDA as well as the state Department of Finance.

The money can only be spent on projects it was earmarked for prior to the RDA’s demise. Among those projects is infrastructure such as streets, storm drains, and such to open up city-owned property for development along the future extension of Daniels Street.  McWhinney Real Estate Services is in talks with Manteca about using 30 acres of that land to develop a Great Wolf Resort that could have up to 600 rooms, a conference center, and a 70,000-square-foot indoor water park.

It is also along Daniels Street that city envisions another 90 acres being developed as a family entertainment zone immediately adjacent to the Big League Dreams sports complex.

The wind down of the RDA will take a number of years as the city is still paying off $120.1 million in long-term debt.

The now defunct Manteca RDA was taking in more money from property tax revenues than necessary to service its debts and other obligations. The state is allowing the successor agency to keep enough tax receipts to pay off the debt. The current annual debt service is $9.8 million.

The agency has four outstanding assets totaling $3.5 million in the form of money it is owed.

The largest is a $1.7 million loan used to provide seed money to make development services self-sufficient. The idea was that growth-related projects such as subdivision map reviews and such would be charged actual costs which in turn would pay for city staff resources. The loan allowed the city to set up development services to stand on its own with the idea seed money would be repaid over time.