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Napa hotel guests could hold the future of Copia in their room keys.

A group of business people called the Coalition to Preserve Copia is hoping to gain local control of Napa’s defunct center for wine, food and the arts, and leaders propose to finance the estimated $30 million purchase by having hotel guests pay for a special bond to do so.

They suggest the creation of what’s known as a Mello-Roos district and are working to gain the support of local hotel operators to add a surcharge on rooms to pay for the bonds. If the plan goes forward, guests staying at specific city hotels would pay a tax or facilities fee on top of their room bill. John Salmon of the coalition noted that the proposed facilities fee “is not a general tax, and in no event would the general fund of the city of Napa be involved.” 

“It’s a special facilities fee paid by a narrow group of parties that would benefit from the facility,” he said.  “We’ve identified the bond, among other methods, as an appropriate vehicle to raise money,” Salmon said. But the city and two-thirds of the hotels in the district — the outlines of which are still to be determined — must agree.

Cassandra Walker, economic development director for the city of Napa, said the coalition approached her office about the Mello-Roos bond issue.

“We talked to the city manager and mayor and they said ‘yes’ on a concept level,” Walker said. But, “We need more details. Nothing has been officially endorsed,” she added.

The city of Napa doesn’t  manage any Mello-Roos districts, also known as community facilities districts,  Walker said. “But we have business improvement districts, landscape maintenance districts and property business improvement districts” that raise money for specific purposes, she said.

While Salmon is not ready to name names, he said, “We have talked to several of the hotel owners in proximity to Copia and they are generally supportive of the concept. Some have already confirmed their support in writing.”

Jeff Whitehead, general manager of the River Terrace Inn, said, “Our hotel has been approached by the group. We think they’ve latched onto something that might be a good solution.”

“We’re just proceeding cautiously because (of) the economy. If this were 2007, it’d be no big deal,” Whitehead said. “With everyone so rate-conscious right now, it’s a little harder to sell.”

“Copia suddenly going out of business was a blow to everybody,” he said. “We’d like to do what we can to be part of the solution.”

Should the coalition gain control of the 12-acre Copia property, Salmon said, it might also consider selling part of it, such as the five acres south of First Street and part of the parking lot north of First Street.

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As the city establishes its downtown-specific plan, “We anticipate that there will be ideas as to what can be done with the north parking lot and south garden that could be explored,” Salmon said.

The plan assumes that the Coalition to Preserve Copia will be able to acquire the property, which is still the subject of complex bankruptcy proceedings at U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Rosa.

Executives of the former center for wine, food and the arts are working with ACA Financial Guaranty Corporation, insurer for some $70 million worth of Copia bonds, to reach a deal on transfer of ownership of the property.

Selling some of the Copia property could raise money to repay ACA or recapture some of the $30 million asking price, Salmon said.

ACA seems receptive to the coalition’s ideas, Salmon said. “They are honestly concerned about doing the best thing for the community.”

ACA President Ray Brooks declined  comment. 

“I’ve seen the plans from the coalition,” said Copia President Joe Fischer. “We believe it is a very good plan. We have great confidence in John (Salmon) and Harry (Price) to continue to make progress on that as a real possibility for the property.”

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