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CIA at Copia

The Copia amphitheater overlooking the Napa River, which hosted music events before the wine and food center's 2008 closure, is slated to receive terraced seating and a shade overhang as part of an overhaul by its new owner, the Culinary Institute of America.

The Culinary Institute of America, which has won Napa’s support to move into the shuttered Copia wine and food center, will have more funds for the revival.

A $40 million bond issue has gained the approval of the Napa and St. Helena city councils, with $5 million earmarked for Copia’s redevelopment. The bond, which will be issued by a joint-powers agency of various California cities, will help pay for remodeling at the First Street complex that has been dormant since Copia’s failure eight years ago, as well as upgrades to the academy’s Greystone campus in St. Helena.

“We’ve waited a long time since 2008, when it closed to the public,” Mayor Jill Techel said of Copia’s demise amid mounting debt and sinking attendance. “We couldn’t pick a better partner than the CIA to bring that energy, that vitality back to the site.”

CIA is seeking the bond funding from the California Statewide Communities Development Authority, which provides tax-exempt financing for local projects that create a public benefit. The bond is an obligation of the authority and not the two cities individually.

Since buying the property at 500 First St. in October 2015 for $12.5 million, the culinary institute has outlined its plan to remake it as CIA at Copia, a home to cooking demonstrations, exhibits and special events. The city Planning Commission approved the project July 21.

Although the school plans relatively modest changes to the exterior of the 80,000-square-foot main building, the interior would see major changes to its layout.

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The restaurant would gain a separate entrance from the outside, and a nearby staircase would be removed for easier access into the building. CIA will install demonstration kitchens upstairs in a former gallery, and the center will house two free-access collections – the artworks of the Vintner’s Hall of Fame, and a tableware and cookware collection assembled by the late Chuck Williams, who founded the Williams-Sonoma kitchenware firm.

Copia’s outdoor amphitheater facing the Napa River will gain a shade canopy and terraced seating, and the school also seeks a greenhouse to replace one that was removed after the building’s closure.

If there were any doubt about the Copia property’s usefulness to Napans under CIA control, the inclusion of the two museums should settle that question, said Vice Mayor Mary Luros.

“This fills a pretty clear public benefit,” she said before the vote. “We have a real lack of museums here in the city of Napa.”

Copia’s reopening is scheduled to begin with the debut of its restaurant in late September, and work is expected to continue through 2017.

Earlier in July, the St. Helena City Council gave its own approval to the bond issue to support CIA. Funds for the Greystone property will go toward renovating instructional kitchens, adding bake shops, building a separate kitchen for catering, and moving office and support operations.

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.