After years of speculation, a new owner stepped forward in 2012 to purchase the languishing Napa Town Center, which had become a drag on the fortunes of downtown.
In May, Napa developer Todd Zapolski and partners bought the Town Center and a string of adjacent commercial buildings on First Street: the Dunne Building, the former California Savings Bank building and the former Merrill’s Drug Store.
In total, the newly renamed “Shops at Napa Center” will feature 156,000 square feet of retail space, with the owners promising to go after retailers that would bolster downtown as a place to shop, not just eat and sip wine. A hotel is also part of Zapolski’s plans.
Built in the late 1980s, the First Street open-air mall had been most recently owned by George Altamura and partners, who had gradually phased out long-term leases and touted empty storefronts as a plus for any buyer who wanted a fresh start at leasing.
“Closing this purchase is significant,” Zapolski said at the time. It was no coincidence that the deal was completed at the same time the city’s Downtown Specific Plan was finalized.
“The Downtown Specific Plan was critical to getting our deal done,” he said. “There is a broad level buzz about the revitalization of downtown Napa, and this redevelopment will play a key role in furthering that.”
Major tenants of the center include Ben & Jerry’s, Gillwoods Café, McCaulou’s, Mustard Seed Clothing Co., Napa Valley Jewelers and the Napa Valley Toy Company. Napa Center is shadowed by Kohl’s department store, which was not purchased. Gillwoods has since announced it will leave the center in May 2013.
“Our vision for the Shops at Napa Center is to create a vibrant retail center that will complement the evolving downtown community and offer a shopping destination for residents and visitors that entertains all the senses,” Zapolski said at the time.
Starting in 2013, the owners are planning to remodel the center. A batch of new retail leases is promised for early in the year. At one point, an Apple retail store was mentioned, but no leases have been announced.
“The architecture and design of the properties will be refreshed considerably to reflect a modern agrarian feel that is authentic to Napa,” the owners said in a news release. “We are moving very deliberately to attract a robust mix of national, regional and local tenants to downtown Napa that will create a gathering space to shop, dine and celebrate.”
The developer also plans a hotel at the site of the former Merrill’s. Zapolski said he will likely work with a hotel developer to bring lodging to the heart of downtown.
“We have one serious group that is interested,” he said in August. Depending on who that is, the hotel could be as high as seven stories and include from 70 to 150 rooms.
Constructed in 1987 as a centerpiece for downtown redevelopment, the Town Center had gradually seen a decline in tenants, with many storefronts empty.
The Altamuras teamed up with the Doctors Company of Napa in 2002 to buy the center for $16.25 million. Since then, the owners had tried numerous times to sell the center and redevelop portions of it with multi-story additions.
In 2004, Altamura, Jr. floated the idea of razing the eastern half of the center for a six-story Ritz-Carlton hotel that would have also covered the site of the old Merrill’s.
In 2005, the Register reported that the owners had a tentative deal to sell the property for $40 million, but that sale did not go through.
In 2007, the owners announced plans for a five-story retail and condominiums project, but the complex did not materialize. A renewed leasing plan was launched in 2009, but with few results.
Zapolski declined to say how much he paid for the property, but in November, he estimated that the investment will total $60 million to $70 million.