Copia reuse plan in jeopardy, developer warns

In a letter, Keith Rogal tells supporters 'we need your help'
2013-07-30T19:03:00Z 2013-07-30T19:10:52Z Copia reuse plan in jeopardy, developer warnsJENNIFER HUFFMAN Napa Valley Register
July 30, 2013 7:03 pm  • 

If portions of the former Copia building in Napa cannot be leased under a proposed reuse plan, redevelopment efforts could grind to a halt and the building may be forced to close, according to Copia redeveloper Keith Rogal.

The warning came in a July letter Rogal sent to supporters.

“We need your help,” he urged unnamed recipients. “It is not economically prudent to spend millions in planning for new uses” at Copia if they are rejected, he wrote.

Rogal was referring to the Napa Planning Commission’s approval of an appeal against permitting new office space in the former Copia building, now referred to as 500 First St.

In late December, Rogal announced preliminary reuse plans for the long-shuttered building next to the Oxbow Public Market. Copia representatives had planned to carve out leasable space from a former gallery on the second floor as a first step for redeveloping the property.

When a group called Coalition to Preserve Copia protested, planning staff forwarded the matter to the city planning commission with the recommendation that the offices be allowed.

The coalition, led by Napa developers John Salmon and Harry Price, asked the city to halt modifications of the Copia building until there is a city-approved reuse master plan for the entire 12-acre site. The group claimed that the office use was not permitted under the property’s current zoning.

In May, the Planning Commission rejected the city staff’s recommendation and upheld the coalition’s appeal.

On June 13, the Copia Liquidating Trust (CLT), the bankrupt parcel’s controlling entity, filed its own appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision. “CLT strongly disagrees with...granting the coalition’s appeal,” it wrote.

That appeal was to be heard on Tuesday. At the Copia Liquidating Trust and ACA’s request, that meeting has been postponed until Nov. 5.

In Rogal’s July 16 letter, he asserts that if new tenants aren’t allowed at Copia, “the only financially responsible course of action is to mothball the property” and wait until sustainable uses are financially viable.

According to the letter, representatives from ACA Financial Guaranty Corporation, which insured the bonds that funded Copia, “have made clear they will pull back, stop spending (and) secure the property,” to revisit a reuse plan in the future. ACA would need to close down the building and close off the land “to reduce their operating costs and potential liability,” the letter states.

In the recent past, the building, including its theater, has been made available to a small number of meetings, events and other gatherings including the Napa Valley Film Festival and BottleRock.

Rogal’s letter also mentioned a possible first tenant for the former Copia building. Rogal would not name the tenant, only to say it was a local wealth management company.

That firm would occupy part of the former gallery on the second floor of the museum. New windows were to be installed on the First Street-facing side of the building, along with other commercial office improvements.

On Tuesday, Rogal said he will host one or more public meetings this summer to share specific information about the reuse plan.

“What we want to do is give people an overview of our thinking,” with concrete details, he said. “Right now there is speculation,” Rogal said.

“In the absence of information people can think all kinds of things,” he said. “We thought it’s time to start making sure people have a complete picture of our plans.”

Dates for those meetings have not been announced, Rogal said.

When asked to comment on Rogal’s letter and plans, John Salmon of the Coalition to Preserve Copia said, “We hope that ACA will decide to file a master plan with the planning department.”

Rogal said that the master plan will be submitted to the city “very soon.”

An attorney for the Copia Liquidating Trust and a representative from ACA could not be immediately reached Tuesday afternoon.

ACA first announced that Rogal would head up redevelopment efforts at Copia in December 2011. On Tuesday, when asked when his contract with ACA would end, Rogal said “upon our success and accomplishing our goals.”

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(12) Comments

  1. VogueLaGalere
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    VogueLaGalere - July 31, 2013 7:24 am
    Why must Mr. Rogal's projects create a high degree of divisiveness? Will this postponement allow time for a publicity campaign such as "Keep Copia Copia" and create yet another controversy in our community? Napa County was badly torn up by the 5 year battle over Napa Pipe all driven because speculators made a bad investment and had to be made whole. This has the same trappings: bond holders who didn't carefully look at the risk (there was no way Copia would generate the revenue to sustain and retire its debt) and are trying to minimize their losses.

    I am tired of seeing Rogal's projects bringing with them the baggage of community fights.
  2. Wineandfood
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    Wineandfood - July 31, 2013 8:30 am
    kinda sounds like blackmail.
  3. Flaneur
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    Flaneur - July 31, 2013 12:34 pm
    Wineandfood, if Copia is costing its owners maintenance money, and is not able to let space, and expects an expensive re-use plan to be blocked, what do you think that the owners should do? Why does this sound like blackmail rather than like a prudent business decision? "Trying to minimize their losses" sounds like something we would all do when an investment went bad, Vogue. But perhaps one or both of you know something from behind the scenes?
  4. Wineandfood
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    Wineandfood - July 31, 2013 1:45 pm
    Completely closing the place down while still being responsible for the debt service is not a viable nor prudent business decision. No one is saying "no office space", what I think they are saying is let's see the entire master plan for the site instead of piecemealing it. I can't imagine that they don't have one, so why not show it? Stating it's my way or we shut everything is blackmail and not at all "minimizing their losses".
  5. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - July 31, 2013 3:20 pm
    Well stated!
  6. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - July 31, 2013 3:35 pm
    "The group claimed that the office use was not permitted under the property’s current zoning."

    That's the most significant issue here. Office use was not part of the original zoning. Does anyone know the zoning of this property? Just curious.

    Sounds to me as though Rogal wants to just go in here and create a disorganized, mismatched tapestry of businesses. Bottlerock comes to mind. Too much magical thinking and impulsive ideas put forth. How about an actual plan for the entire property?

    Also, don't we already have enough office space in this area? Is anyone studying the impact on other commercial property owners if there's a saturation of office space? Once again, if it's not zoned for office space, it shouldn't be allowed. I feel sorry for the investors but don't push your investment problems off on the community.
  7. lharo13
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    lharo13 - July 31, 2013 6:18 pm
    Copia's main office was upstairs already. Not sure why that would not count as a part of the current use plan. The non profit Copia was managed out of 2nd floor business space.
  8. Cadence
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    Cadence - July 31, 2013 7:07 pm
    v-de-l, you're joking aren't you? Since when has zoning been a part of Rogal's vocabulary?

    Rogal is loudly saying "ROLL OVER" to lap dog government. Government will obey. Maybe he'll even sweeten the deal with an in-house chain restaurant so the citizenry has reason to want whatever he wants. He's already dealt his Costco card elsewhere.
  9. duckfan
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    duckfan - August 01, 2013 9:44 am
    The parking lot has become a community meeting place-ie: farmers market-bikefest-oxbow locals parking. It should be owned by the city of Napa.

    I suggest the city properly utilize the law of eminent domain and secure the abadoned Copia parking lots for community use. They are currently owned by the insurance companies involved -and not being properly maintained. With all of the proposed building in the area, this is a huge issue.

    Also, I have lived here 14 years. Mr. Rogal rarely puts the community needs above his own personal desires and wants in regards to his building and development proposals. It's amazing to me that Napa even entertains his ideas still.
  10. Rob C
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    Rob C - August 02, 2013 4:16 pm
    There is no "Copia" vision. There's no need for it (never was) nor any viable plan. Just more voices who feel entitled to their "say". And no strong leadership to tell them um, no, sorry, your voice isn't really needed, here - please move along.

    Office use should be just fine until a full plan can be developed - who is that really going to hurt? "Eminent domain to take a parking lot" Really? That's the kind of input one gets and why Napa Pipe, Borreo Bldg., Expo all sit and rot. Its why it took 50 years to build the Trancas/29 interchange and why it's 25 years after the Loma Prieta and the bridge still isn't done.

    In CA everyone gets a say and nothing gets done.
  11. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - August 02, 2013 4:53 pm
    Iharo13, most businesses have an office set aside. For example, restaurants set aside an office to deal with accounting. That doesn't mean that a property zoned for restaurant use should automatically convert to office use. That ONE office inside of Copia could be used to manage the tenants etc. But I don't think Rogal has ONE office in mind here.
  12. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - August 02, 2013 4:58 pm
    Rob, I suppose you're one of those people who believe a community should not have a voice?
    Like it or not, community voices are the reason Napa is not just another suburb of a place like San Jose. It's the reason that ag lands are not paved over. I would rather have delayed growth than impulsive, quick buck development by someone whose interests are primarily money.
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