By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Manteca Waterslides didn’t slip slide away; they’re back with a vengeance
wolf groundbreaking
Jeff Brown — the son of the late Budge Brown of Manteca Waterslides fame — poses with Wiley the Wolf and former Manteca Mayor Steve DeBrum at Great Wolf’s November 2018 ground breaking. Virtually all of the groundwork to get the project to groundbreaking was done on DeBrum’s eight-year watch as mayor.

If it wasn’t for an innovative farmer, four movers and shakers, and a political leadership not only willing to play the long game but keep their eye on the proverbial ball 30 acres west of Costco that was attached to the municipal wastewater treatment plant would be nothing more than a weed-infested wildfire hazard as Manteca eases deeper into summer.

Today, however, it is a teeming resort.

The opening Tuesday of Great Wolf Resort is a tectonic economic event for Manteca.

It’s not quite on the scale as the South San Joaquin Irrigation District whose leadership 113 years ago had the foresight to secure and develop water rights on the Stanislaus River basin that helped turn the fields around Manteca into some of the most productive farmland in the world.

It’s more in the league of the land deal that brought Spreckels Sugar to Manteca 104 years ago to add a growth dimension to the robust farming region to create year round jobs and a new icon in the form of the sheer size of the plant and the four 15-story silos years later that put Manteca on the proverbial map.

It all started because a farmer by the name of Budge Brown who had some big holes on his property from a sand excavation business and happened to take a trip to Hawaii.

There he came across primitive short “slides” made of concrete amid falls feeding a tropical pool.

Long story short, Brown ended up opening one of the first waterslides in the United States.

It gained a large following from San Francisco, San Jose, and Sacramento to the far corners of the country from tourists wanting to cool down and have some fun as a stopover on the way back from Yosemite National Park to San Francisco.

It did so because of the location Brown and the fact he kept fine tuning Manteca Waterslides. Brown, as an example, is widely credited with introducing fiberglass waterslides to the industry.

The operation of the slides for 30 years from mid-spring to late summer provided countless Manteca area high school and college students with summer jobs.

It also became a huge calling card for Manteca. It wasn’t unusual for Mantecans traveling — whether it was going through Chicago’s O’Hara International Airport or Disneyland — to strike up conversations with strangers to return home a bit stunned.

That’s because when the obligatory question popped up as to where one was from, they’d say Manteca in Northern California. That, in a surprising number of cases, would trigger a reply along the lines “I know where that is. It’s got the waterslides. Our family stopped there on the way back from Yosemite when we were in California.”

Brown also advertised extensively on radio and TV.  At one point he aired commercials that were a takeoff on the smash No. 1 hit “Walk Like an Egyptian” by the Bangles in 1987 that drilled “Walk Like a Mantecan” into the minds of hundreds of thousands as they watched clips of happily screaming kids of all ages getting ready to make splash landings.

The name recognition the waterslides provided that put Manteca on the map is why four men — Bill Filios, Art Nunes, Mike Atherton, and the late Jack Snyder — decided Manteca needed to go after a waterslides firm such as Raging Waters to open a Manteca location.

They even obtained the rights to the name Manteca Waterslides with the intent to hang that name on outdoor waterslides they hoped to see open next door to the Big League Dreams sports complex.

A potential firm was lined up and a deal negotiated.  Then it fell through. Meanwhile the real estate executive for Great Wolf – Byron Heezon — who was in charge of scouting and securing expansion sites got wind of Manteca’s waterslides fishing expedition.

Manteca’s location fit into Great Wolf’s successful business plan.

The 150-mile radius demographics and population was ideal. It also helped that Northern California with the well-to-do tech communities of the Bay Area plus Sacramento filled arguably the biggest hole in the network of Great Wolf resorts that now number 18.

Manteca’s elected leaders at the outset — Mayor Willie Weatherford along with council members Vince Hernandez, Steve DeBrum, John Harris, and Debby Moorhead — understood that they had little chance of securing an indoor water park resort unless they had the land to offer that came with entitlements already in place.

That meant getting not just zoning in place but also securing environmental clearance and getting the 30 acres they were prepping for the purpose of snaring an indoor waterpark resort to the point it could be quickly developed.

They also were aware of the need to “help” land a private sector investment of $180 million. The council gave staff marching orders. They needed to create value for the 30 acres by making it turnkey for development — entitlements and access infrastructure. They needed a solid return for the city and the community. And they needed to make sure whatever deal they agreed to, that it didn’t put taxpayers on the hook for even one cent if anything went wrong.

That approach is how Manteca at one point had three major indoor waterpark firms knocking on their door. It is also how they beat off other suitors such as Brentwood and Gilroy.

The only money besides the environmental work that the city invested into the development was the $10 million to extend Daniels Street to McKinley Avenue and the utilities not just to the Great Wolf property line but for another 80 plus acres of city-owned land they want to develop as a family entertainment zone.

The incentive deal was splitting hotel room tax Great Wolf would generate for a periods of 25 years after which time every cent collected would go to the city.

After the initial full year of operation thanks to a room tax hike voters approved, the city will receive in excess of $2 million a year to help pay for day-to-day municipal services such as police and fire.

As the years unfold, that amount will increase until the 26th year when — based on 2016 dollars — the city would be realizing north of $5 million a year.  To put that in perspective that is roughly a third of the sales tax — the city’s second largest source of revenue behind property tax — Manteca currently receives on annual basis.

Back in 2008, then councilman Vince Hernandez said what sold him on the idea of an indoor waterpark resort was the potential of year-round employment instead of just seasonal jobs that Manteca Waterslides offered.

Great Wolf opened Tuesday with more than 600 employees with significantly more than half of them full time jobs.

It also has provided Manteca with — as former councilman Richard Silberman described it —“a huge billboard” along the 120 Bypass.

Not only is it the latest hotel in the Great Central Valley stretching from Bakersfield to Redding by virtue of its 500 hotel rooms, but it also stands as a testament to the “can do” attitude of the City of Manteca and its strategic position to tap into the Triple “S” Economy — San Francisco, San Jose, and Sacramento.



This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at