Developer unveils concept for revival of Copia site

Scale of project concerns planners
2012-12-21T10:21:00Z 2013-03-30T15:11:24Z Developer unveils concept for revival of Copia siteHOWARD YUNE Napa Valley Register
December 21, 2012 10:21 am  • 

What can bring the kiss of life back to Copia, four years after its failure?

A developer unveiled a revival strategy to Napa’s Planning Commission on Thursday night calling for an active street seeded by street-level retail, a hotel, multi-story housing and better access to the river.

Keith Rogal proposed surrounding the onetime culinary showcase with a hotel to the west, shops along First Street, and housing south of the street. Together with a mix of tenants inside the former museum building, a variety of uses in its midst would draw a stream of locals and visitors to the neighborhood in the way Copia failed to do, he said.

Despite the museum’s closure, Rogal emphasized the site’s potential for revival, noting the barely decade-old building, strong business at the neighboring Oxbow Public Market, and the Napa River vistas on three sides.

But using those advantages will require refashioning an area deadened by too much surface parking and a layout that largely faces away from the water, he said.

“There’s simply no energy in what’s otherwise a tremendously dynamic area, no enlivening activity,” he told planners at City Hall. “Besides the Public Market, there’s very little movement there. That corridor should be lined with retail of some kind, (and) we need to make the waterfront useful and interesting.”

Rogal’s presentation to the Planning Commission offered the first details of a possible new look for the Copia center, which opened on First Street in November 2001 to great fanfare, only to shut its doors and declare bankruptcy after seven years amid sliding attendance and $78 million in debt.

The compound is now under the control of the Copia Liquidation Trust and ACA Financial Guaranty Corp., and the companies assigned Rogal and Associates of Napa to devise a reuse plan. A draft city staff report, citing the Downtown Specific Plan, called for “flexibility for a variety of uses” at the 12-acre site.

A beginning rather than an end, the Copia proposal focused on where to place various land uses rather than the details of architecture or the number of parking slots.

But Rogal’s plan recommended placing a future hotel between the Oxbow Market and Copia; adding cafés, restaurants and storefronts along First Street to prop up sidewalk activity, and opening the area south of First for rental and condominium housing, possibly including three- or four-story residences.

Because the additions would occupy parts of the current parking areas, below-ground parking would be created at the hotel and housing areas, and possibly a multistory parking garage with more storefronts at ground level, according to Rogal.

The Copia building would become home to a mix of retail, restaurant and office spaces under the plan. The museum’s theater would retain its function and be made available to local  groups, Rogal said.

The outline of a new Copia development received a mostly polite response from planners and audience members. But some were concerned that the scale of the additions — especially multistory homes — would be at cross purposes with the stated hope of improving access.

“This is the Napa Valley, and people come here to enjoy the nature, the openness of the valley,” said Dennis Bertolucci. “To box it all up with housing, it defeats the whole purpose of opening this area up.”

Planning commissioners appeared receptive to some of Rogal’s ideas, but also were cautious about adding to downtown’s stock of retail space with vacancies continuing to linger farther down First Street.

“It’s a very aggressive plan, not unlike the original plans for Napa Pipe or Carneros Inn,” said Tom Trzesniewski. “Fifty thousand more square feet of retail space is quite a lot. I would like to see this site not suck the wind out of downtown.”

“This seems like a creative and thoughtful beginning,” said Commissioner Gordon Huether, who has an art gallery at the west end of downtown. “But I want to make sure it also has a positive effect on the other businesses that are reinventing themselves in Napa.”

Another Napa resident urged city planners, whatever the final details of Copia’s revival, to create something as useful to Napa residents as to visitors.

“That’s what Steve Carlin has done so well with the Oxbow Market, and we should focus on local-serving things to keep the community involved with it,” said Chuck Shinnamon. “That’s what Copia failed to realize: to succeed, you need a strong local following.”

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(12) Comments

  1. rpcv
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    rpcv - December 21, 2012 11:53 am
    More retail? Why? Let's get downtown going first, before creating yet more space that will only compete with it.
  2. WineGuy95113
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    WineGuy95113 - December 21, 2012 2:24 pm
    #rpcv...really? If downtown cannot maintain retail stores why would you be against someone with a vision that will create retail space that may be successful? Or don't you want competition???
  3. tommerle
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    tommerle - December 21, 2012 2:46 pm
    The Oxbow Marketplace and COPIA should not be compared. The former is a mini Ferry Building marketplace. These Pike Place/Faneuil Hall variations will always do well in what they do. But COPIA offered so much more which the locals couldn't appreciate. The fault lies with the sophistication levels of the populace. And the tourists just kept going north, since Napa hadn't yet started redeveloping. If COPIA opened next year as it was envisioned (and without such prisonlike architecture) it would also do well (look at the explosion of food shows on TV in the last few years). No need to reinvent the wheel.
  4. naparealestate
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    naparealestate - December 21, 2012 10:13 pm
    This is the worst idea I've ever heard:

    1) Build retail when downtown is vacant?

    2) Build multi-story condo housing when nobody wants it at Napa Pipedream?

    3) Build hotel when Ritz project next door is still on hold?

    4) Replace parking lot with parking garage (good bye farmer's market)?

    I get it -- pitch the ridiculous plan now so when you pitch the real plan tomorrow it looks normal by comparison. Why not just add the jail relocation to make it 100% ridiculous...

  5. napablogger
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    napablogger - December 22, 2012 2:20 am
    Better here than at Napa Pipe. Copia has turned into another white elephant downtown. I also like the idea that some housng is included here, if it is affordable enough perhaps some downtown workers will live there.
  6. glenroy
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    glenroy - December 22, 2012 6:59 am
    This isn’t that difficult to figure….RiverFront and Main St… or Main St and RiverFront.
    Copia’s going to have to something a lot different….just not a good fit as it is.
  7. Old Time Napkin
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    Old Time Napkin - December 22, 2012 9:15 am
    tommerle, looks like you are saying the locals weren't sophisticated enough to appreciate Copia. As a third generation Napan I hope you take your attitude towards locals and move on to a more "sophisticated" community. I'm sure they will welcome you with open arms. Your attitude towards locals coupled with Copia's attitude towards locals is exactly why it failed.
  8. naparealestate
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    naparealestate - December 22, 2012 9:48 am
    It would seem the challenge is to use what's already built. In this economy, who is going to spend tens of millions to acquire the white elephant and then spend additional millions more building housing, a hotel, or commercial retail space?

    The building's layout mimics most college buildings -- classrooms, an larger auditorium space, and public spaces for students to congregate. If I were the trustee, I would shop the building to an existing college (NVCC, PUC, UC Davis, etc.) for a satellite campus, a private school (Blue Oak, etc.) for a primary campus, or the NVUSD for a public school.
  9. BennyD
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    BennyD - December 22, 2012 3:03 pm
    I always thought it would be great to have a satellite campus of the CIA or UC Davis for the graduating culinary students. They would bring fresh blood into the area. We need to diversify our downtown and make it a mecca for the culinary world.
  10. surfdog
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    surfdog - December 23, 2012 11:20 am
    Old Timer..I too am original Napkin born 1957 right here..Unfortunately what tommerle says is true for the most part..There are, like you sophisticad people in Napa, just not enough of them...My father, RIP, was a tenured professor at Fairliegh Dickenson University in New Jersey..Being from the east coast, he despised Napa and still thought of it as a cow town(mom and dad divorced in 1969 and we moved back here after 7 years in NJ)..he thought the best thing about Napa was the coffee at the old Bel Aire Bowl Coffee shop back when Jim Alonzi owned it..THAT is the perception of what the world outside of Napa thinks of the area..
  11. Red Dirt Town
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    Red Dirt Town - December 23, 2012 5:29 pm
    Lets get Pacific Union College down there ASAP! The residents of Angwin are supportive of an agricultural appellation not a subdivision.
  12. glenroy
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    glenroy - December 27, 2012 7:25 am
    So Dad was the typical enlighten liberal…that’s the path that caused so many of our problems.
    When we were a cow town kids could ride from Trancas to Fuller Park on a bike and not get run over or molested…we rode bikes to pick prunes Potter's and Hanna’s …we rode bikes to Conn Dam rec when the Trail had 5 cars an hour, rode to the Soda Hole… in and around environs of academia who knows where your body would be dumped.
    Since the enlighten arrived it’s been one fiasco after another…they spent millions of dollars on a dozen traffic studies to avoid congestion on Trancas… torn down dome of the nicest building DT…
    This was a World Class Valley when there was a couple thousand massive Valley Oaks from Kaiser to Mt St Helena…when it was a real Cow Town.
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