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Great Wolf, city enter final stretch
A family enjoying the Great Wolf Resort in Garden Grove. - photo by Photo Contributed

Heralding the possible landing of a 500-room hotel and indoor waterpark resort as the start of a new economic era in Manteca, a unanimous City Council agreed to enter into an exclusive 60-day negotiating agreement with Great Wolf to hammer out a development agreement.
If all goes well, the project could come up for approval in March leading to groundbreaking next summer and completion in early 2020.
Tuesday’s action means precise details will now be hammered out in a document that would bind Great Wolf as well as the city to a specific course of action. It would also spell out exactly what the $250 million project will contain including the size of the conference center. Once an agreement is cobbled together by Great Wolf and city staff it will be reviewed by the Planning Commission. The final call on whether the project would proceed is expected to be before the council in March.
“This is kind of the means to an end,” noted Councilman Mike Morowit. “This is not about Great Wolf.”
Councilman Richard Silverman added that the 30-acre waterpark resort is “the key” to overall development of the family entertainment zone (FEZ)  on 210 acres of city owned land planned along the extension of Daniel Streets from where it ends next to Costco to McKinley Avenue.
“It’s a catalyst to kick us to the next level,” Silverman said.
With the prospect of Great Wolf building, Big League Dreams is now exploring adding at least two more playing fields to the city-owned sports complex. The city’s strategy is to use the 500,000 visitors Great Wolf expects to draw each year along with the 425,000 that pass through the BLD gates annually to leverage other entertainment orientated concerns and retail to the FEZ.
The goal is to build on synergy to create a regional family entertainment mecca that conceptual plans indicate could include restaurants; outdoor performance space including a band shell stage or gazebo with lakeside seating for 500; manmade lake with boardwalk with kayaks, canoes paddle board and paddle boat rentals, an outdoor amphitheater with stadium-style seating for competitions and performances; an indoor all-seasons sports and expo center with four basketball courts that would allow alternative use for volleyball, cheer competitions, badminton, gymnastics, wrestling or exhibit space; an outdoor soccer/concert stadium, with 500 fixed seats and space for expansion; fields for soccer, football, lacrosse, rugby, and field hockey; beach volleyball; a destination playground; a Flow Rider (a device that generates waves you can surf); and a stunt BMX race course and hard surface skate park for competitions complete with spectator bleachers among other possible features.
The bottom line for the city is creating more private sector jobs, increasing the customer base for existing and future businesses, and generating more money to provide municipal services.
The council conceded the 500 permanent jobs Great Wolf expects to provide — 45 percent fulltime and 55 percent part-time — won’t all be the coveted head-of-household jobs after the issue was brought up by Manteca Trailer and Motorhome owner David Tenney.
While Tenney said he wasn’t against the project, he was concerned about the validity of the nearly $20 million payroll that Great Wolf is projecting for the Manteca location that is targeted to open in 2020 when the state’s minimum wage goes from its current $10.50 an hour to $13 an hour on its way to $15 an hour by Jan. 1, 2022. Tenney divided $20 million by the number of projected jobs — 500 — and came up with an average of $40,000 a job.
After the meeting, officials in response to an inquiry indicated the $20 million number likely includes all payroll costs such as employer Social Security, benefits, and other costs beyond wages paid to workers that often run 18 to 30 percent of what an employee is paid. As they promised Tenney, they said they would provide the public and council with a precise answer.
 Manteca has been pursuing a resort waterpark project since mid-2010.
During that time Manteca Mayor Steve DeBrum noted a lot of proposals were on the table with the city turning most down due to financial considerations.
“There is one key element (with the Great Wolf proposal) — there’s no impact on the general fund,” DeBrum said.
The deal Garden Grove in Southern California made to land Great Wolf when McWhinney Co. was involved as the developer saw the city agree to give $5 million upfront to Colorado-based developer and another $42 million after the hotel opened. That was in addition to giving McWhinney public land worth about $22 million to build the resort. Garden Grove issued bonds to come up with most of the $47 million needed to secure the resort.
By contrast, the pending Manteca deal only shares part of the 9 percent room tax that Great Wolf collects over a 25-year period.
“At the end of the day it has to make sense for the City of Manteca and for the community,” DeBrum said, adding no one on the council “is willing to give away the farm.”
McWhinney originally wanted a 50-year room tax spilt in Manteca as well as certificates of participation that would have put taxpayers at risk should the project fail. They also called for a 15 percent room tax for only the resort.
The city after nearly seven years working with McWhinney, ended their relationship. The city then contacted indoor waterpark resorts looking to expand such as Kalahari Resorts. Great Wolf meanwhile was looking at Brentwood and Gilroy. It has also changed drastically since 2010 going from a “brand” to a firm that builds, owns and operates all of its resorts.
Great Wolf — without McWhinney as a middleman and with its revamped business plan — resumed talks with Manteca and struck the framework for a tentative deal.
Great Wolf is the leading indoor waterpark resort firm in the country. It has been in business for more than 20 years. It operates 15 lodges with two others under construction.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email