The Oxbow bypass has already proven its worth as a piece of physical engineering, as it easily handled winter floodwaters that in years past would have inundated downtown.
But it is rapidly proving its worth in another way: as an important piece of civic infrastructure.
Since it has opened last summer, the bypass, known as the Oxbow Commons, has attracted bikers, walkers, families with kids, dog walkers, and picnickers, functioning as a pleasant park connecting the older downtown and the emerging Oxbow Market area.
It has also begun to attract larger gatherings, including the recent Napa Bike Fest, Earth Day, and the Napa Valley Jazz Getaway festival.
It is about to host its largest event yet, in the form of “Napa Lights the Valley,” the city-sponsored Fourth of July celebration, which could attract as many as 10,000 people, city officials say.
The Independence Day events had outgrown Veterans Memorial Park, Recreation Supervisor Pete Hangen told the Editorial Board recently, and it made perfect sense to move the entire production to the large plaza that is the centerpiece of the bypass. Fireworks will still be launched from the nearby Napa Valley Expo, but the views from the plaza should be excellent, he said.
What isn’t changing on July Fourth is the traditional parade, sponsored by Napa Sunrise Rotary, organizer and city council member Doris Gentry told us. The parade will kick off near the old Register Building on Second Street and follow the same route as previous recent years.
The parade begins at 9 a.m. with a soccer demonstration by hometown team Napa Valley 1839, then the parade at 10 a.m., looping down Second Street and back up Third.
The grand marshal this year will be the Boys & Girls Club. Gentry said parade organizers have moved toward naming worthy groups as grand marshal rather than individuals after the controversy of 2014, when gay rights activists objected to Meritage Resort and Spa founder Tim Busch being named marshal. They said his vigorous campaign against gay marriage made him an inappropriate choice. Busch later apologized and organizers kept him as marshal, but he was the last individual to lead the parade.
After the parade this year, the action moves to the bypass, with food, wine, and beer stands opening at 12:30 p.m., with a series of music performances starting at 1 p.m. and a “Kids Zone” fun area open from 1:30-7:30 and fireworks at 9:30.
And we were pleased to hear from both Gentry and Hangen that Rotary and the city are, for the first time, cooperating on marketing the Fourth of July parade and subsequent festival, though they remain separate events.
In the bigger picture, we were greatly impressed by what Hangen told us. He said the city has a broader vision for the bypass, including moving most events, including the annual Blues, Brews & BBQ festival and the Napa City Nights concert series, away from Veterans Park and downtown streets and into the plaza. Not only is the space larger and more open, the move will answer complaints from downtown merchants, who say that a densely packed street festival actually tends to depress business rather than help the bottom line.
The city is also considering a series of new events, possibly including a pumpkin-themed Halloween festival.
In all, we were excited by what we heard about recreation options in the Oxbow Commons and downtown generally. The bypass channel will make a huge difference for the physical structure of our city, but it also marks a great improvement in our cultural and civic life.