Handing over the keys

A somewhat ceremonial exchange of keys was held at Copia after the sale.

Art Ferretti, who has been a caretaker of the Copia property since before it was even built, handed over the keys to Tom Bensel, managing director of the CIA at Greystone. The CIA has purchased the north parcel. It has asked Ferretti to continue in his role at 500 First St.

Seven years after it closed and later filed for bankruptcy, the former Copia building in downtown Napa has a new owner. The Culinary Institute of America has purchased the north section of the campus at 500 First St., with plans to offer a broad array of food experience.

“We really are very excited about this,” said Tom Bensel, managing director of the CIA at Greystone, located on Highway 29 in St. Helena. “This is a historic moment,” for both the private culinary college and Napa.

The Culinary Institute of America at Copia will carry forward the facility’s original goal of providing excellence in culinary education and food-based experiences to the region’s visitors, according to a news release.

“This is really good news,” said Napa Mayor Jill Techel. “I know they have been working on a deal for a while. They were running out of space Upvalley. We are lucky that the timing worked out and the (space) seems especially well made for their use.”

According to the Napa County Assessor’s Office, the CIA paid $12.5 million. The property was most recently assessed for $21.3 million.

There will be no charge for admission, but some classes will require a fee, officials said.

A combination of revenue from the restaurants, retail store, culinary classes and demonstrations and special events should make it financially sustainable, according to the CIA.

“From a financial standpoint, we feel very confident we can make it a success,” said Bensel.

The CIA has a long history with Copia. “We were one of Robert Mondavi’s original partners in the effort,” said Dr. Tim Ryan, president of the CIA. But the CIA decided to develop its St. Helena campus instead.

“That was more than 20 years ago, and today we need further room to expand. Given that, we are excited to now be able to continue Bob’s vision for Copia and the Copia name,” said Ryan.

The CIA’s plan to buy the property was first announced in July. At the time it was said that the CIA would buy 11 acres north of First Street and Triad Development of Seattle would buy the southern parcel of land.

Triad originally planned to buy both the south and north parcels at Copia but that plan did not go forward, for unknown reasons.

Working with the CIA, Triad planned to build 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.

However, Friday’s announcement did not include any information about Triad buying the south parcel.

“We have only acquired the northern parcel of the property,” said Bensel. “ACA Financial Guaranty Corporation still holds the deed to the southern portion.”

“From our understanding, they chose not to move forward on the project,” Bensel said of Triad.

Neither Maria Cheng, a spokeswoman for ACA, or Curt Johansen, representing Triad development, could be reached for comment on Friday.

Totaling more than 80,000 square feet, the Copia building contains a 280-seat theater, two restaurant venues, a 100-seat demonstration kitchen and theater, library, retail space, classrooms, and exhibition spaces. There is also an outdoor amphitheater with seating for more than 700 and an array of outdoor gardens.

Situated next to the Oxbow Public Market on First Street in central Napa, the CIA will be able to provide visitors to the Oxbow district an expanded array of food and wine offerings, said the news release.

“The city of Napa has done a tremendous job bringing vibrancy to its downtown,” Ryan said. “We are confident that Copia’s situation within this fast-growing culinary hub will re-establish the facility as a focal point both for wine and food enthusiasts to experience wine country and for the growth of the CIA’s programs.”

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.

Plans for the CIA’s newest location are in development. Visitors can anticipate new programs focused on food and wine, new dining facilities, an expanded calendar of special events, public museum, and other consumer-focused experiences, the school said.

The college’s Food Business School for food entrepreneurship and innovation will also be headquartered at Copia. Programming is expected to be introduced in spring 2016.

Copia first opened in 2001 with philanthropic contributions to the project totaling 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.

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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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