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Will it be Great Wolf-ing down RDA money?
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Editor, Manteca Bulletin,

I’ve previously expressed my opinion on the Great Wolf Resort’s possible location to Manteca. However, with the recent barrage of P.R. – like Bulletin articles about the Great Wolf Resort, I feel compelled to again provide a different perspective. Can we cut through all the spin and just examine the subject clearly and honestly? Manteca’s general fund has shrunk alarmingly.

A Great Wolf Resort in Manteca could possibly garner $4 to $7 million in hotel tax revenue (depending on whose figures you believe), to bolster the anemic general fund. At $300 per night, including 2-day indoor water park passes for a family of four, this resort probably won’t be used by most locals, but rely on out-of-town visitors. I can accept that, just as I acknowledge that I don’t frequent the Bass Pro Shops, although I admire the building’s architecture and the landscaping. If Great Wolf Resort management had decided to build in Manteca, without any financial assistance from the city, this letter would be unnecessary. But the Bulletin has floated a $20 million figure in RDA money as possibly funding the required infrastructure (roads, sewer, etc.) to facilitate building this resort. Infrastructure costs should rightfully be fronted by the developer. Then there is no risk to the city of jeopardized city investments. I’d summarize my concerns about this project into the headline, “Great Wolf-ing Down RDA Money.” Using RDA money for this project continues the questionable pattern of city leaders giving tax incentives and sweetheart deals to developers of big retail. I say “questionable” because I wonder how effective this strategy really is.

We were told that if the city spent $32 million of RDA funds to build Big League Dreams, it would become a mecca to future businesses. The Daniels Street strip mall followed, but costs billowed to include another $10 million in RDA funds to cover infrastructure payments, as well as a several million dollar tax-sharing deal with Costco. Funding BLD allegedly led to securing the Bass Pro Shops and “life style” mall on the other side of the freeway. However, Bass Pro Shops required its own tax incentive deal to the tune of $35 million (over a 35-year time frame.) With these huge concessions and investments from the city, Manteca has two regional draws to attract visitors, provide needed sales tax revenue, and encourage further retail development. Along comes Great Wolfe Resort, but guess what? Its management apparently wants its own sizeable deal and the city may raid the RDA fund again. Where does it end? What is the sense in procuring big retail with sweetheart deals in order to promote further retail growth, when that growth comes with its own demands and expectations?

Supposedly, the city and Great Wolf Resort management are in “negotiations.” I always thought that it was best to negotiate from a position of strength. Bulletin articles touting Great Wolf Resort as our general fund savior and airing the city’s poor financial situation would seem only to weaken the city’s position and make it appear desperate. Let’s have transparency.  Instead of vague “500 more jobs” promises designed to try and drum up public support for this project, tell us how many of these jobs are full-time, year-round (not seasonal) positions.

The proposed use of RDA funds for this project simply finances what should be a developer’s responsibility. That is just wrong. Several years ago, city leaders praised our public library but lamented the fact that the $31 million needed for renovations wasn’t feasible. Yet they spent $30 million on BLD, $10 million on Daniels St. infrastructure and now millions for Great Wolf Resort infrastructure, all RDA funding. Apparently, it isn’t that RDA money wasn’t available for the library, it just wasn’t “feasible” for a project that didn’t hold the possibility of being a “cash cow” for the city, even if the other approved projects turned out to be more like “cash calves.” RDA funding shouldn’t be used as monopoly money or as a prop in sleight-of-hand, now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t, shell game.

During negotiations, the city needs to clarify that it will provide no financial incentives or investments to Great Wolf Resort. Instead, the city can streamline or fast-track the permit process to help speed building the resort. The city should also scale back its proposed 15% hotel tax to the 9% of other local hotels. Why gouge visitors that the city is trying to attract? This project can benefit both Great Wolf Resorts and the city, but it must stand on its own to prove itself.

Karen Pearsall
May 25, 2011