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Manteca’s future is rising along 120 Bypass on former wastewater treatment plant land
Great Wolf Lodge
A rendering of what the Manteca Great Wolf Lodge will look like when completed.

Want to see pure genius?

Drive past Costco on the 120 Bypass heading west toward the Bay Area, one of the top three mega-regions in the country for wealth of which Manteca is in the outer orbit.

On your right you will see the improbable.

Manteca has managed to pull off something Tracy, Stockton, and Modesto couldn’t pull off even in their wildest dreams. Manteca beat out supposedly more progressive Bay Area communities such as Gilroy and Brentwood.

Fifty years ago the City of Manteca spent some $40,000 on buying a large parcel to use for future expansion of the municipal wastewater treatment plant. For decades it was used by contract farmers to grow corn for dairy cattle silage.

Today it is growing something different. It’s the foundation of an economic edge no one else in the Northern San Joaquin Valley can come close to replicating.

The city has parlayed 30 acres of a roughly $2,000 an acre investment of more than 200 acres into a $180 million private sector investment in Manteca’s future known as the Great Wolf Lodge.

The superlative “great” doesn’t do the project justice or what Manteca has managed to secure.

When it opens around Memorial Day weekend in 2020, Great Wolf Lodge will be the undisputed largest hotel in the Central Valley from Bakersfield up through Sacramento to Redding. There’s a good chance Great Wolf will be the largest hotel in all of Northern California as a look at room data that is available has yet to pop up a hotel of the size in the Bay Area.

The only reason that a 500-room hotel makes economic sense in Manteca is the fact it will be attached to a massive indoor water park along with a family fun center with restaurants as well as a conference center.

Great Wolf isn’t sharing proprietary information. But for naysayers out there keep in mind investors aren’t plowing $180 million into Manteca on an unproven company. Great Wolf has 18 similar massive indoor water parks and hotels with two more, including Manteca, under construction. Among those doing quite well is located in the last place you’d expect an indoor water park would get much traction — Southern California. La-La Land is where people go to the beach Christmas Day as well as on the Fourth of July. Based on the rationale of those that believe Great Wolf is somehow going to flop in Northern California, the Garden Grove Great Wolf should be boarded up now that the novelty has worn off. For a concept that supposedly should be DOA in a Mediterranean climate such as California, good luck booking a suite at the Garden Grove resort.

The people who will drop between $325 and $500 a night to stay in Manteca are the same ones buying $1.3 million KB tract homes in San Jose, $800,000 fixer-uppers in Campbell, and renting three bedroom apartments in San Francisco for $6,000 a month. They are families with decent disposable income.

Assume that Great Wolf only has a 70 percent average occupancy when it opens, which is much lower than what they are experiencing elsewhere. If the median suite rental is $350 before Manteca’s 12 percent room tax that adds another $42 to the tab as well as meals and dropping coin in the arcade and other non-water related amusements, rest assured those people won’t be thumbing a ride to Manteca.

The odds are extremely high during their two day stay in Manteca — a one night suite also includes water park privileges until 8 p.m. or so the next day — the odds are families of three to six members will spend at least $100 elsewhere in Manteca during their stay. It may be on gas, dropping by Bass Pro Shops, dining elsewhere instead of Great Wolf, or seeking other amusement such as at the Showplace 16 Theaters or Manteca Bowl. At a 70 percent occupancy that is another $12.7 million a year. That would translate into $127 thousand in local sales tax for the city on top of the sales tax and room taxes Great Wolf will generate directly. It also would mean another $63,500 in Measure M public safety tax to help pay for more Manteca firefighters and police officers. Again, keep in mind 70 percent occupancy is definitely on the low side.

Then there are the 250 full time jobs and the 250 part time jobs that instantly will make Great Wolf the second largest private sector employer in Manteca after Doctors Hospital.

Even if the 250 part-time jobs are at $15 an hour, those are 250 jobs that are basically entry level ideal for those just out of high school, going to college or entering the job market for the first time can get without having to leave Manteca.

Great Wolf is arguably the third biggest thing ever to happen to Manteca economically after the South San Joaquin Irrigation District was formed to secure and develop water rights that guaranteed Manteca would not remain a wide spot on the road.

The first was the sweet land deal that allowed Manteca to beat out Stockton and other valley locations for the Spreckels Sugar refinery. The second was after the plant’s 77-year run ended and a shuttered Spreckels Sugar was poised to become a blight at Manteca’s most high profile intersection where the 120 Bypass meets Highway 99 was a private sector-Manteca Redevelopment Agency partnership with Atherton-Kirk that parlayed the 350 acres into an economic juggernaut. That project and the taxing base it created was used to leverage municipal investments that brought Big League Dreams, infrastructure to snare the Stadium Retail Center, and major infrastructure such as the Union Road/120 Bypass interchange upgrade now underway. That also includes RDA tax funding Spreckels Park generated to leverage at least 360 low income senior housing and affordable housing units.

Great Wolf — along with the promise of the adjoining family entertainment zone being pursued by the city plus the adjacent Big League Dreams sports complex — is just one of two impressive success stories that the city has leveraged using the municipal wastewater treatment plant.

On Tuesday, the city is conducting a ceremonial ribbon cutting for the food waste to compressed liquified gas facility to power municipal solid waste trucks. The process also uses methane gas created from the wastewater treatment plant to cut down on additional air pollution.

This is the same wastewater treatment plant where the city has started exploring establishing a sorting center for recyclables and a composting facility for green waste along with fiber-based trash such as paperboard and paper products plus residential food waste to create compost. The two endeavors will substantially reduce what this city landfills as well as improve air quality. There is not another city around — at least in California — that can say their wastewater treatment plant sets the gold standard for green sensibilities. Toss in the fact it operates so well that investors don’t think twice about building a 500-room hotel and resort virtually next door on land once intended for treated wastewater disposal before technological advances in the treatment process of what we flush down the toilet eliminates the need for the land.

Name one other city to secure a $180 million private sector resort on what is essentially land once attached to a wastewater treatment plant that’s still operating as well as the treatment facility literally trailblazing new ways to harness our garbage for a cleaner environment.

For those that don’t think Manteca can swing for the bleachers and deliver, that six-story hotel rising from a former cornfield along the 120 Bypass is not a pipe dream. It is the result of 10 years of due diligence on the city’s part as well as a half century of fairly forward thinking.