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Group of locals enters Copia fray
Copia, the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, hope to sell the Napa facility by the end of the year and move operations to San Francisco. J.L. Sousa/Register

A group of Napa Valley residents has joined forces to explore ways to preserve Copia’s building and grounds for local and visitor use. 

The Coalition to Preserve Copia hopes to develop a re-use and financial plan allowing Copia re-open in a new form, one that is both financially sustainable and community focused. 

The fledgling group includes local business people, investors, developers, advocates and vintners. The coalition is in early talks with Copia and bond insurer ACA Financial Guaranty Corporation to buy or lease the property.

The genesis of the group began with local developers Harry Price and John Salmon and Dorothy Lind-Salmon, a longtime booster of downtown Napa business.

“Nobody was happy to see Copia closed,” John Salmon said. “We set out to build a core group that would be able to connect to various constituencies in the valley.”

A group of 13 advocates and leaders recently met to discuss options for the distressed property.

Their first meeting generated ideas, including turning interior spaces into conference facilities and demonstration kitchens into TV studios. Copia could become a place for tourists to start their visit to Napa Valley.

“These are ideas to be explored,” John Salmon said.

General consensus is that the facility should serve a broad spectrum of public needs and achieve as many of Robert Mondavi’s goals as possible, he said.

“We are at the beginning stages of brainstorming,” said Brian Kelly, head of Charter Oak Bank and another member of the Coalition to Preserve Copia.

“We have a group of people who are trying to figure out if something can be done to preserve this wonderful facility,” Kelly said. “We want to preserve this jewel for our community. How do we do it so that it’s a win-win for everybody?” 

Any new plan would be a collaborative, financially sustainable effort involving residents, the city and the county, John Salmon said. “This time let’s get the community involved. We don’t want to leave the building empty. We’re trying to find a path to resolve issues and get the building back in service.”

Tyler Anderson, a downtown business owner and member of the coalition, said, “A lot of people feel burned by Copia. Let’s take this diamond in the rough and make it a beautiful centerpiece in the valley.”

How will the group navigate the bankruptcy process, including the competing interests of claims trader Copia Claims and bond insurer ACA? What about the restrictions on use of interior space because Copia received tax-free bonds?

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It’s too soon to say, John Salmon said. “All of these issues will be addressed,” he said. “It’s a work-in-progress.”

The group met with ACA representatives for the first time on Wednesday. “We’re having good conversations with both ACA and Copia,” Salmon said. At the same time, the group could also file its own bankruptcy plan for the center, he said.

To this point, Copia’s future had been in the hands of lawyers and insurance companies. This is a chance for locals to influence what happens on the 12-acre property on First Street, Kelly said.

“Our community has the responsibility to study and consider various options which may maintain this facility for the benefit of our businesses and residents,” he said.

The coalition is concerned that outside buyers or investors will not make the best use of the property. “An outsider is less likely to hit the nail on the head,” Anderson said. 

Representatives for ACA and Copia declined to comment.

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