New Napa City Hall

Plans released for Napa’s new City Hall and police station include this plaza in front of the building’s First Street side, as well a protrusion (left) to accommodate a meeting chamber for the City Council and various city commissions. The chamber would be equipped with movable seating to allow its use for community gatherings and event rentals.

Woods Bagot graphic

Designers of Napa’s future downtown civic center continue to refine the building that will house city government and police for decades to come.

Nearly a month after releasing illustrations of a new City Hall and Napa Police headquarters destined for the First Street site of the Community Services Building, architects and developers working with Napa this week promoted the plan to residents during two public forums at the current, 66-year-old City Hall.

The workshops on Tuesday and Wednesday gave Napans a glimpse of the four-story, 130,000-square-foot civic center, which is being developed by the Plenary Group of Los Angeles and designed by Woods Bagot, a San Francisco architecture firm. It would go up on First Street a block west of Napa’s existing City Hall and police station, and unify city departments currently spread across seven sites – including three leased spaces that cost the city $300,000 a year.

Napa’s plans also include a new downtown fire station at Seminary and Clay streets north of the current City Hall, as well as a mixed-use complex of hotels, housing and shops to replace the existing City Hall block. Tax revenues from the so-called “superblock” are expected to help cover construction bonds on the civic center, which are estimated to cost $110 million.

Despite the increasing detail of sketches released over the past several months, Terry Meurk, a Woods Bagot principal, told an audience Wednesday morning that parts of the layout, exterior finishes and other elements remain in play and open to residents’ suggestions and needs.

For example, the flat canopy and slim columns stretched over the four-story civic building was on display again – but with two new variations. One version included much deeper cutouts to cast more light and air onto the sidewalks and the First Street entrance plaza, while another ditched the pillars completely in favor of concealed structural ribs with a shorter overhang.

Meurk also expressed architects’ willingness to bring more Napa-specific flourishes to a building design that in early sketches has stuck closely to a clean-lined, mid-20th-century modernism. One possible local touch could include the use of stone salvaged from the remains of the original First Street bridge over Napa Creek, which was replaced in 2005.

The core of Napa public life should acknowledge the valley’s agricultural roots, he added, but designers “should be careful not to let it become clichéd – like just putting vines in front of it.”

How to relate a new City Hall’s styling more closely to its wine-country surroundings was a point of lively debate on Wednesday.

Lee W. Miller’s suggestion to the city stretched farther into the future – to a time he said will be marked by technology that reduces the need for downtown garages and should inspire serious thought of reducing or moving parking spaces. (Plenary’s plans include an extension of the Clay Street parking structure that would create room for 320 more vehicles, as well as curbside disabled, drop-off and short-term parking around the city building itself.)

“Self-driving cars are going to be a reality in the near future,” said the Napa real estate agent, urging any new garage space to be easily convertible to buildings. “To me, it doesn’t make sense to build a garage in the most expensive part of the city if self-driving cars become popular in 10 or 15 years.”

The shape of the housing, hotels and stores that will replace the old City Hall has yet to come as sharply into focus as the civic center, according to Jeffrey Fullerton, Plenary’s vice president for real estate development. However, he announced the block may receive as many as 270 hotel rooms and suites, up to 110 residences, and about 36,500 square feet of retail space, blended in a layout yet to be decided.

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Later community meetings may influence the size, type and design of shops that eventually are built on the block that contains the current City Hall, said Fullerton. For example, the inclusion of a small grocery store – supported by some Napans to replace the Safeway on nearby Clay Street that closed after the 2014 earthquake – may require more parking closer to the street than other retailers would.

Private development on the city’s Second Street block is likely to cost more than $100 million, according to Fullerton.

Napa is pursuing temporary space for city offices so it can build the civic center and housing-hotel blocks simultaneously. Public Works Director Jacques LaRochelle on Wednesday announced city staff has visited Napa County’s former Health and Human Services campus on Old Sonoma Road for possible reuse, and the city also is looking into erecting a modular building at its corporation yard to house the police department.

Construction of the new city hall is expected to run from 2019 to 2021.

In prior versions of this article, comments were erroneously attributed to John Salmon by the Register. Salmon did not make the reported comments and does not agree with them.

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.