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Copia's Future

The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone has bought the former Copia property on First Street in Napa. According to the Napa County Assessor’s Office, the CIA paid $12.5 million. The property was most recently assessed for $21.3 million.

Has a buyer for the former Copia property at 500 First St. been chosen? We could know within just a few days.

According to city and development sources, several companies have submitted bids to buy the 17-acre complex on First Street in Napa.

They include:

-- Triad Communities of Seattle, Washington;

-- Local developers Harry Price and Mike DiSimoni, Sr.;

-- Pacific Union Development of San Francisco;

-- The Palm Hill group of Florida that owns the undeveloped property adjacent to Copia that was once in line to become a Ritz-Carlton resort.

Lynn Sedway of Sedway Consulting, who was hired to help sell the former Copia property on behalf of property bond holder ACA Financial Guaranty Corporation, wouldn’t elaborate about a possible buyer. However, the news could be released as soon as “a couple days,” she said Wednesday.

“We have not formally picked a bidder,” she said.

Triad created a conceptual development plan for the Copia property several years ago that was posted online.

The plan depicted a multi-acre project with 260,000 square feet of building, including 100,000 square feet of commercial, 450,000 square feet of residential, a conference center, 170-room hotel and 200 condos or housing units.

Joe Fischer, a Napa businessman who worked with Copia before it filed for bankruptcy in 2008, said Thursday that back in 2007, before the museum closed in November 2008, Triad presented a development plan to a special committee of the Copia board.

“Their 2007 plan was much of what continues to be talked about” today, including a hotel, condos and residences, he said.

Calls to the Triad offices in Seattle were not returned. Triad is perhaps best known locally for Pacific Union College’s controversial Eco-Village project in Angwin.

When the college and Triad officials first announced the project in 2006, their plans included 591 housing units, as well as upgrades to the campus and to the small commercial area by the college.

After Angwin residents and others raised concerns about the size of the project and potential traffic, and after it became the center of attention during the county’s general plan update, the number of homes was reduced to 380. But that project fell through with the economic crash of 2007 and 2008. The proposal was scrapped in 2010.

In December, two downtown Napa developers, Harry Price and Mike DiSimoni Sr., teamed up to bid on the former Copia property in Napa’s Oxbow district.

On Wednesday afternoon, Price said he had “no idea” who had been selected as the winning bidder. He hasn’t heard from ACA one way or the other, he said.

Buzz Butler, project manager for Pacific Union Development, a privately held real estate development, investment and property management firm, said his group submitted an offer, but hasn’t heard anything about the results. He wouldn’t elaborate on his group’s plan or how much they offered to pay for the property.

“Our plans were based on what is appropriate for the site,” he said Thursday.

Pacific Union Development includes some of the same partners that developed Napa Valley Gateway, a business park near the Napa County Airport, and Meadowood Napa Valley, a resort in St. Helena, said Butler.

Napa attorney Kevin Teague, a spokesman for Palm Hill, was not available for comment Thursday.

On Wednesday, Maria Cheng with ACA Financial Guaranty Corporation declined to comment on a possible buyer. Jim Cantrell, the person responsible for administering the Copia liquidation trust, could not be reached for comment.

Mayor Jill Techel said representatives from Triad had talked to her about their interest in the former Copia property.

“I continue to think they have a very viable plan,” said Techel. She cited the company’s background and other projects in Seattle. “They have some broad experience,” she said.

In addition, the company usually adds community benefits to their projects, Techel said, including sustainable components, trails and other amenities.

Techel said that Lane and Butler’s group were among the other interested parties that had talked to her about the project.

“Whoever the successful bidder is, they will need to work with city staff to review their ideas,” said Techel.

Techel said she’s happy to see some action with the property. “It’s good for Napa,” said the mayor. “Having a closed building in such a key location was not good for us. This is a chance to activate the site again.”

“With the work that’s being completed at the (flood) bypass, it probably couldn’t come at a better time.”

Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said that whoever the bidders are

,

“I encourage them to really talk to the city of Napa and neighbors of Oxbow to make sure this time around we have developers working with each other.”

He wants to see the district “planned in a vibrant and sustainable way,” said Pedroza. “This can be a home run for Napa if planned right.”

When it opened in 2001, philanthropic contributions to Copia 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 (CLT), an entity controlled by ACA, took title to the property on behalf of the bondholders. The trust is 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 now hopes to unload the property to someone with enough cash and who is willing to go through the city’s approval process to create a master plan for the entire site.

According to bankruptcy court documents, in late 2008 Copia estimated the value of the property at $30 million. In March 2009, the property was appraised at $24.8 million.

Register reporter Mike Blasky contributed to this story.

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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.

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