Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
Culinary Institute offers new life to vacant Copia building

Culinary Institute offers new life to vacant Copia building


When the Copia signs were removed from its former building at 500 First Street, most Napans probably assumed the name was gone for good.

Until now.

Echoing its original mission when it first opened in 2001, the former Copia property in downtown Napa will be reborn as the “Culinary Institute of America at Copia.”

A south-side parking lot will become home to a mixed-use development offering housing, shopping and parking.

“We’re going to bring the building back to life,” said Mark Erickson, Culinary Institute of America (CIA) provost. “Our hope is to create an opportunity for people to come to Napa Valley, it will become known as the place you should start your visit at.”

The CIA and Triad Development of Seattle have joined forces to present a plan for the rebirth and redevelopment of the long shuttered museum of food, wine and the arts.

Triad Development will buy the Copia land south of First Street. The CIA will buy the land north of First Street. A closing date and purchase price have not been released yet, but the cost for Triad to develop its part of the campus alone would cost $150 million to $200 million and take three to five years. However, the CIA might be able to move in to the 78,000-square-foot Copia museum soon.

In an interview before they were to present the preliminary proposal to the Napa city Planning Commission on Thursday, which was not scheduled to take action, Erickson and Curt Johansen of Triad Development described their plans for the multi-acre Copia campus.

The CIA intends to turn the former Copia building into a museum of the culinary arts, including demonstration kitchens, cooking class spaces, two restaurants, display spaces and other educational features.

Erickson said the CIA has simply outgrown its space in St. Helena. The Greystone campus will remain open, but “This is a tremendous opportunity for us to bring our message to a large audience.”

According to Erickson, Robert Mondavi originally approached the CIA about partnering with Copia, but back then, the timing wasn’t right for the CIA.

“We’ve had a long interest in the property,” said Erickson. “It’s a beautiful building, a great site.”

“The Copia site is of great interest to us because it’s a great opportunity to expand our mission to present educational opportunities to people, it also goes back to reviving the original intent of Copia. It was a good idea then, it’s still a good idea now,” he said. “Napa has become very vibrant.”

A Vintners Hall of Fame will be installed in the atrium space of the first floor. The theater will show movies and be used for other public access. A retail shop and tasting bar will be offered. It will feature two restaurants — one open for lunch and run by CIA students, and one for dinner, located in the former Julia’s Kitchen space.

A significant collection of cookware and utensils that has been donated to the CIA will be on display in what used to be the temporary exhibit space on the second floor. While he could not specify who the equipment was coming from, it is not the Julia Child pots and pans previously on display at Copia, he said.

The former permanent display space will become home to a 9,000-square-foot teaching kitchen, similar to the one currently on the third floor at Greystone, he said.

The Copia building will also become home to the CIA’s new Food Business School and media development department. Other space could be used for conferences produced by the CIA.

The outdoor amphitheater will be terraced to allow for better use of chairs. Concerts, special events and weddings can also take place in that arena.

The CIA plans to preserve as much of the garden space as possible, but “we may need to make some trade-offs there.”

One major difference between Copia 1.0 and 2.0 is the art, or lack of it. “We’re not excluding art, but an art-driven program is not currently in our design,” said Erickson.

Most significantly, the new Copia center won’t be burdened by millions of dollars of debt, as the original Copia was before it declared bankruptcy in 2008. “The occupancy costs will be significantly less,” he said.

There will be no charge for admission, Erickson said. While some classes will require a fee, the CIA at Copia will strive to be accessible to everyone, he said.

Erickson said that the combination of revenue from the restaurants, retail store, culinary classes and demonstrations and special events should make it financially sustainable.

“We’re being very prudent,” he said.

Triad, meanwhile, has wanted to take on the Copia project for years, Johansen said, adding that the time is now. “Downtown is thriving.”

“The CIA is the best fit by far, and we are thrilled they are willing to work with us,” he said.

The south portion of the property, now a large parking lot, will be redeveloped by Triad into as many as 187 units of housing, 30,000 square feet of retail along First Street, underground parking for more than 500 cars and public access spaces.

“The quality of what gets built on the site would be something that Napa would be very proud of,” said Johansen. “We’re trying to create something that is special and unique.”

For the Copia campus on the south side of First Street, “We believe a mixed-use project with some retail and mostly residential would be a good fit,” said Johansen. The housing would be built with green features such as gray water reclamation and solar power.

“We also believe First Street would benefit with ground- level retail,” on the south side of the street, he said. He hopes to work with other downtown stakeholders, such as Steve Carlin of the Oxbow Public Market or Todd Zapolski, developer of the shops at Napa Center.

An affordable housing requirement could be met by building such homes at a separate site located on Soscol Avenue near Pear Tree Lane, said Johansen.

Triad was selected by ACA Financial Guaranty Corporation, which insures the bonds that funded Copia. Triad Development has been developing mixed-use communities for more than 30 years, many in the Pacific Northwest but also in California and other parts of the U.S., according to a March news release.

Triad is perhaps best known locally for Pacific Union College’s controversial Eco-Village project in Angwin. That project fell through with the economic crash that began in 2007 and 2008.

When Copia opened in 2001, philanthropic contributions to the project totaled about $50 million. In addition to the contributions of the Robert Mondavi family and others, Copia borrowed about $78 million, financed by bonds issued through the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank and backed by the guaranty of ACA Financial Guaranty Corporation.

In 2008, these bonds went into default when Copia filed for bankruptcy. In 2010, Copia Liquidation Trust, an entity controlled by ACA, took title to the property on behalf of the bondholders. The trust was charged with maximizing sales proceeds.

ACA and the trust first attempted to sell the Copia complex in 2010, without success.

After that, New-York-based ACA ran into roadblocks in trying to redevelop the site and lease space to short-term renters, with critics objecting to changes that would diminish Copia’s potential to become a center for cultural or community events again.

Rather than try to come up with a redevelopment plan on its own, ACA Financial Guaranty wanted to sell the property to someone willing to go through the city’s approval process to create a plan for the entire site.

Johansen said that assuming the sale goes through, he and the CIA will work together to create a master plan for the the land and buildings at 500 First St.

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.

Related to this story

  • Updated

Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts opened in 2001 and closed in 2008. The fate of the property remained a mystery for year…

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News