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Waterslides: Mantecas lasting brand
8 years later people still connect Manteca with waterslides
A youngster goes down a slide at the Manteca Waterslides in 1998. - photo by Bulletin file photo

Construction of Interstate 5 created a Manteca legacy.

Four decades ago the late Budge Brown was  trying to figure out what to do with gigantic holes left in his land from dirt sold to the state to help elevate the freeway above the floodplain. The idea came to him during a trip to Hawaii while watching tourists slide down short natural slides into pools.

It is how Brown became the pioneer of California waterslides and it is how Manteca gained a “brand” that today still prompts calls to the Manteca Chamber of Commerce inquiring about Manteca Waterslides’ hours of operation some eight years after it was torn down.

It is one reason that prompted Great Wolf Lodge to explore Manteca as a potential site for a 400-room resort hotel complete with a 75,000-square-foot indoor waterpark.

But Great Wolf isn’t the only water park developer eager to capitalize on the name recognition of Manteca Waterslides and the market of 1.3 million people within 30 miles with Manteca at its epicenter.

Two years ago, a private firm approached Manteca leaders about the possibility of using city-owned property adjacent to the Big League Dreams sports complex to build a traditional outdoor water park. They had $7 million that Mayor Willie Weatherford said they were “ready to place on the table” to prove they had financial wherewithal to deliver.

“We chose to go bigger and better,” Weatherford said Tuesday noted that while the Manteca Waterslides drew 175,000 visitors a year they were considered “primitive”
due to the fact they still had concrete slides among its many attractions.

Before they decided whether to embrace the developer with $7 million, the council wanted to explore the dynamics of water parks. Councilman Vince Hernandez was one of two council members who checked out other locations including a Big League Dreams/Hawaiian Falls water park combo in Mansfield, Texas, as well as water parks in Roseville, Sacramento, and Fresno

Council members determined two things:

• Traditional open air waterslides operate five to six months a year at the max.

• Typically after five to seven years the original water park developer sells to local concerns reducing the available resources and knowledge needed to continually upgrade and market the facilities.

“We were looking for something year round,” Hernandez said. “We wanted Manteca to get the most bang for the buck.”

That is when Great Wolf Lodge entered the picture two years ago.

McWhinney Corp. - the firm that wants to develop the water park resort in Manteca and have it managed by Great Wolf Lodge - is now in stepped up negotiations with the city involving a municipal-owned 35 acres site immediately west of the Manteca Costco store.

Councilwoman Debby Moorhead - who is also the chief operating officer of the Manteca Chamber of Commerce - notes that every month the chamber still gets a number of inquiries about Manteca Waterslides’ operating season and hours even though the water park closed in 2004.

Trey Rigby of McWhinney Corp. noted the strong association people in the Bay Area and elsewhere have with Manteca and waterslides being interconnected would only help their efforts. With room rates for up to eight people expected to run around $300 for an overnight stay with two days access to the waterpark, the primary targeted market are families from the job-rich and high income Bay Area that at are looking for mini-vacations.

Hernandez on Wednesday noted that the demise of Manteca Waterslides meant 200 to 300 less jobs available during the spring and summer for high school and college students in the area.

The Great Wolf project could ultimately have 570 permanent jobs with an annual payroll of $9.4 million, draw 400,000 visitors annually, create 1,000 construction jobs, and cement Manteca as a legitimate tourist attraction.

Great Wolf and McWhinney also have substantial resources behind them.

The Brown family pulled the plug on the Manteca Waterslides for a number of reasons: rising workmen’s compensation insurance, the need to modernize to stay competitive, a desire to move onto other ventures, and the inability to find a buyer interested in a first generation water park that had been updated. That led to the selling of the land for a housing development that is now being built and is known as Oakwood Shores.

Apollo Global Management acquired Great Wolf earlier this year.  The alternative investment firm’s assets totaled $5.3 billion in 2011 with assets under management in excess of $75.2 billion. Among the higher profile companies owned by the management group are CKE (Carl’s Jr. Restaurants as well as Hardee’s), AMC Entertainment, Caesars Entertainment Corp., Norwegian Cruise Line, CKX (American Idol and other entertainment concerns), and Realogy (Coldwell Banker and Century 21

McWhinney Corp. is a Colorado based development firm that has built sustainable communities as well as office, medical, industrial, retail and hospitality projects aimed at the tourist trade.