Great Wolf Resorts may build waterpark hotel on Hwy 99

Known for its indoor waterparks, Great Wolf Lodge plans to build a 700-room, 7-story outdoor-themed resort at Highway 99 and Caldwell

VISALIA – Touted as being able to attract large, national retailers, medical offices and major restaurant chains, the Sequoia Gateway development on Highway 99 at Caldwell Avenue can now add destination resorts to its list.

Stephen Peck of Peck Planning, representing Sequoia Gateway, LLC, announced the developers of the highway commercial project were in talks with Great Wolf Resorts to develop one of its outdoor-themed hotels at the Jan. 12 Tulare County Planning Commission meeting. Sequoia Gateway was on the agenda in order to amend its plans for phase 2 of the project to include the 700-room, seven-story Great Wolf Lodge featuring an indoor waterpark.

“It’s like a cruise shop that is permanently parked,” Peck said. “Visitors will now have a strong attraction to travel up 99 and visit our county rather than travel up I-5 and visit other counties.”

Great Wolf Resorts, Inc. is North America’s largest family of indoor waterpark resorts with 19 locations across North America and is currently constructing its 20th in Maryland. Known for its expansive indoor waterpark featuring water slides, pools and play areas and caters to families with children ages 2 to 12.

Steve Jacobsen, vice president of domestic development for the resort chain, said the company is looking into developing a larger version of its resort in Manteca, Calif. In addition to an indoor water park, the Manteca resort includes a bowling alley, arcade, miniature golf, and lazer tag. They also offer themed rooms, multiple dining options, birthday party packages, meeting space, and catered events.

“We wouldn’t be doing this at this spot unless we felt like there was the potential for growth over time,” Jacobsen said.

Commissioner Maria McElroy asked if Tulare County residents should be worried about the drain of a major water park on the area’s groundwater. According to staff reports, Great Wolf Lodge is estimated to use 185,000 gallons of water per day. In all, phase 2 of the project is expected to use 303 acre feet of water per year, lower than the 367 acre feet per year used to irrigate the corn and alfalfa currently planted on the land. An acre foot is about 326,000 gallons of water.

Peck also noted the project is tied into Visalia’s wastewater system, which recycles its water and uses it for landscape irrigation as well as groundwater replenishing. After factoring in the city’s water recharge, the staff report estimates the project will only use 160 acre feet per year. County staff noted that “Although the water and sewer usage are higher than originally projected in the Original EIR … Groundwater usage for the Project site would still be lower than baseline levels for water usage based on the property’s previous agricultural usage.”

Mike Washam, head of economic development for the Tulare County’s Resource Management Agency, said the company originally contacted the city of Visalia to locate within the current city limits. Eventually, the project will be annexed into Visalia as it continues to grow south. Unable to find a suitable location, the city referred Great Wolf Resorts to the county and the Sequoia Gateway project. Washam said people are more likely to stay two to three nights in the area to stay at the resort and then make their way to another hotel closer to the Sequoia National Park. He said the restaurants at the lodge are open to the public and those staying there are likely to venture into the community for other dining options in Tulare and Visalia.

“This is big job creation, brings lots of taxes and lots of revenue so it’s a good project for the county and the region,” Washam said. “People who go there will be spending money in local communities.”

Peck said the amendments were needed to reconfigure phase 2 of the development to make way for larger tenants, such as Wolf Lodge. In order to make way for the new businesses, Peck said the project will reduce its regional retail square footage by about 380,000 square feet, dropping one of its sites planned for a traditional sized hotel and some office space, and is adding some regional medical office space to accommodate Kaweah Health’s plans to join Valley Children’s Hospital at the complex. New regional retailers could include Bass Pro, the popular outdoor brand, and Swedish furniture maker Ikea.

Peck said the work on the sites is slated to begin this year and be ready for opening in 2024 or 2025. In all, phase 2 of the project will develop 100 acres of land for a mix of regional retail, hotel, office, restaurant, and fast-food uses.

McElroy motioned to approve an addendum to Sequoia Gateway;s environmental impact report, amend the specific plan and permits, add destination resort to the zoning, and approve a tentative map for the 18 parcels of the project. The motion was approved unanimously.

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