Editor, Manteca Bulletin,
I’m writing to express some concerns about the possible Great Wolf Resort deal that the city of Manteca is currently negotiating.
Let me start off by stating that my concerns have little or nothing to do with the fact that I don’t see myself ever booking a room at the Great Wolf Resort. That is beside the point. I don’t eat sushi, but I don’t begrudge any sushi restaurant that currently operates or plans to open up in Manteca. If the Great Wolf Resort does actually locate in Manteca the same way most of our other current business ventures do, I would not have a problem. But the real issue is that the Great Wolf Resort isn’t held to the same standards and obliged to follow the same city rules for opening a business in Manteca. The resort is obviously getting special favors and considerations from city leaders and staff who are apparently dazzled by the glowing promise of hefty hotel tax revenue for the city.
Ironically, the revenue projections for the city have diminished significantly since the Great Wolf project was first suggested several years ago. Remember how the hotel tax (potentially raised to 15% as a special entertainment/resort tax) was supposed to bring in $4 million annually to the city? Now we find that city leaders are willing to give up 75% of this tax (remaining at the current 9%) revenue to the Great Wolf Resort for ten years, before the revenue split deal is adjusted. What? No other hotel or motel in Manteca (that I know of) gets any share of the city’s hotel tax, but the Great Wolf Resort will keep 75%! To put this in perspective and to offer a counterpoint to those who believe “$1 million in hotel tax for the city is better than nothing”, if city leaders insisted on a more equitable 50/50 share of the hotel tax, then Manteca would get an additional $10 million for city coffers over the first 10 years (if the rosy projections are accurate).
This “sweetheart” deal is on top of the fact that Manteca city leaders spent $7-8 million in infrastructure and site improvements to make the project “shovel-ready”. I understand how a “shovel-ready “project gives the city a distinct advantage over other potential locations that the resort might be scouting, but this money was spent before any agreement was inked. To me, that was irresponsible and risky behavior on the part of city leaders and staff. That $7-8 million could have financed other road or infrastructure improvements, but now that it has been spent (without a signed contract!) to entice the Great Wolf Resort developers, the strength of the “shovel-ready” aspect of the deal is diminished. The city is now in the weaker position of “they already spent the money, now they have to agree to some type of deal”. So, besides diluting their “shovel-ready” advantage, the city is also willing to concede 75% of the hotel tax to Great Wolf. Isn’t that a “double-dipping” concession?
I realize that revenue sharing is not a new concept to Manteca, Costco and the Orchard Promenade Shops developer also benefited by a revenue split, but not to the extent and percentage that Great Wolf will. Manteca leaders seem to be giving up more and more of the city’s resources or potential income to lure business ventures which may or may not meet their expectations. I saw a report on CNN a few weeks ago that examined two veterans’ charities where the fundraisers hired by those two organizations kept 9 dollars out of every 10 dollars raised. One of the charity’s spokesman noted that his foundation was a smaller, lesser-known charity and thus needed the fundraiser group’s help. That is the direction Manteca leadership seems to be headed — grateful for 10% of revenue or profits which should all rightfully belong to the city. That really concerns me.
The city of Manteca still faces challenges in meeting the needs of its current and future citizens. Adequate police and fire protection, restoration and renovation of streets, alleys, and sidewalks, and updated facilities and amenities such as the library, a performing arts center, and a swim venue that more fittingly reflect the current as well as potential city population’s needs cannot be magically solved by the Great Wolf Resort deal. These same needs still exist even after snagging Costco and the Bass Pro Shops. Are we actually supposed to believe that Great Wolf will be the latest cure-all for all our growth and maintenance woes?
I’m not writing this to discourage Great Wolf from locating here, but rather to urge city leaders to look at Manteca’s strengths and not negotiate away our advantages or fall prey to empty or overly optimistic promises. Unwise decisions by city leaders that fail to serve the city’s best interests set the precedent for future business ventures to demand similar treatment and concessions. Look at the deal clear-eyed, not bedazzled by “maybes”.