If you ask Jim Keller, the redevelopment of Napa’s historic downtown post office can’t happen soon enough.
“I’m ready,” Keller said in an interview. “I wish it was moving along a lot faster than it is.”
However, with a project of this caliber, “it’s a few-year process before the shovels hits the ground.”
Keller, a local real estate investor and developer, bought the Second Street post office from the United States Postal Service for $2 million in March 2017.
The post office, located at 1351 Second St., has been closed since it was damaged in the August 2014 earthquake.
Keller then also bought a parking lot across the street and announced his intention to buy the Zeller’s ACE hardware property behind the post office.
Keller’s redevelopment concept includes converting the former post office and Zeller’s into a 175,000-square-foot, 163-key hotel and building a 79,000-square-foot retail and 228-stall parking structure on the east side of Franklin Street, behind Billco’s.
One year after his purchase of the post office, “We are getting close” to submitting a formal project application with the city.
“I expect to be done with it in the next few months,” he said of his application.
Once he receives a thumbs-up from the city, Keller will take that stamp of approval to potential hotel developer partners “to get this thing going.”
Keller said he remains “extremely motivated” to move the post office project forward.
“I’m pressing everyone I can to get this building restored,” said Keller.
“The last thing I want is another earthquake to hit or anything else that would compromise the integrity of the building any further.”
But, “we have processes we have to follow.”
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Watching other projects debut in downtown is encouraging, he said.
“It’s good to have some new traction on First Street,” such as at First Street Napa next to the Archer hotel.
“This project is going to help that retail too. It’s going to put a lot more heads in beds that then frequent First Street Napa and the overall downtown.”
“And we need it,” said Keller. “There are a lot of people that are still relying on more development and more traffic down there.”
In addition to retail, “I love the residential component that is starting to be more present downtown,” such as the townhouses that have broken ground at the Napa Valley Register’s former site, said Keller.
Seeing the Archer hotel come to fruition – and the response to it—is also exciting, he said.
“The momentum we’re building downtown is awesome. We’re really distinguishing ourselves as the place to be in Napa Valley,” he said.
Keller said that in the preliminary conversations, hotel partners and possible retailers are particularly interested in how the post office building distinguishes itself from any other project downtown.
“There are few hotels entitled but none of them have the distinct character and uniqueness of the post office,” he said.
After the August 2014 earthquake in Napa, the future of the post office seemed in doubt. In July 2015, the USPS originally moved to demolish the building, which was built in the Art Deco style in the 1930s.
The agency said that it would cost $8 million to repair quake damage, while it would cost only $500,000 for demolition.
After considerable public outcry, the USPS decided to try selling it to a buyer who could repair the structure and preserve its architectural integrity. An asking price was not publicly listed.
Keller eventually stepped forward with an offer.
The Napa Franklin Station was built in 1933 with funding from the federal Public Works Administration. In 1985, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.