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Future of the Napa Valley Expo

A goat belonging to Agustin Cendejas of the Napa FFA chapter hangs out in a pen at the Livestock Barn at the Napa Valley Expo on opening day of the Napa Town & Country Fair in July 2015.

The Expo’s board of trustees is gathering suggestions from event operators and tenants for a new master plan to determine future facilities and events at the Third Street fairground.

The strategy for the Napa Valley Expo’s future is likely to include new building space, better transportation links – and a renewed emphasis on providing a home for local community groups.

That was the early verdict on Tuesday, when Expo directors and consultants shared early results of surveys that will guide a master plan to develop and improve the downtown Napa fairground.

The process is playing out while the fair authority decides on a 10- to 15-year road map to replace buildings lost to the 2014 earthquake and answer a host of requests to use the grounds for a Latino cultural center, high-end motorhome park and a cricket ground, among other ideas.

Before an audience of about 50 people at Zinfandel Hall, fair officials discussed the most common themes to emerge from the study by LSA Associates Inc., which began last year and has included interviews with the Expo’s various users, from local businesses like Napa Fermentation Supplies to vendors at the annual Town & Country Fair all the way up to the showcase BottleRock music festival.

Expo leaders must balance the need for higher revenue, especially during the more dormant months, with the need to hold on to the property’s links to farming and the local community, said Laura Lafler, an LSA principal and environmental planner.

“This Expo is, and wants to be, Napa’s premier agricultural, recreational and community gathering place,” she said at the workshop, the first of two public forums planned before the Expo board of directors’ expected vote on the plan this summer.

A 10-year, $8 million contract the Expo signed with the BottleRock organizers in February will fund the fairground enough to solve immediate financial worries, which had threatened to force a shrinkage of the Town & Country Fair. But the Expo still requires a plan to replace exhibit halls and food booths torn down due to quake damage – and to increase business to provide revenue to replace or fix facilities suffering from high upkeep costs and obsolete infrastructure, said Lafler.

Among the guiding principles for remaking the Expo should be a focus on creating a conference center with space for meetings, receptions, dances, weddings and dinners, as well as exploring a one-stop office and meeting center for agricultural groups, according to the report shown at the workshop. The Expo board also could remake its livestock complex, home to the Junior Livestock Auction, to allow for other uses outside the fair’s summer season.

Other possible upgrades could include an improved RV park to accommodate those visiting BottleRock, the Napa Town & Country Fair and other major events on the fairgrounds, as well as forging a connection to the adjacent Soscol Gateway Transit Center to encourage more visitors to use public transit.

One of the most prominent additions proposed at the Expo, a Latino Cultural Center honoring the county’s estimated 40,000 Hispanics, received its voice through American Canyon Mayor Leon Garcia, who asked fair officials to provide space recognizing “the sweat equity the Latino community has put into the wine industry.”

But with limited space available, the Expo must make new or renovated venues as versatile as possible and lean away from single-purpose facilities, replied board member John Dunbar, the Yountville mayor.

“Instead of six buildings for six different interests, what if we built one building to accommodate them all?” he replied. A centralized hub, Dunbar suggested, would better serve more groups within the Expo’s limited space and gain a better return on its investment.

Meanwhile, Andrew Healy, vice president of the Napa Valley Cricket Club, called on the Expo to make room for his program on a new pitch behind Riesling Hall on the Expo’s west side, predicting the ball sport’s rising local popularity could draw new visitors over a large part of the calendar.

“We see a strong future for getting hundreds, if not thousands, more visitors on this property every year for six months,” said Healy, whose cricket club must leave its current Calistoga pitch by 2017 because of the construction of a new Boys & Girls Club building nearby.

Another would-be operator at the Expo urged its leaders to keep their eye not only on Napa’s tourist industry but its residents.

David Aten, an event planner proposing an RV facility for vintage Airstream trailers, pointed to the lack of rental space for weddings, social clubs and other local activities and said the fairground provides the only chance to maintain a hub for events “at a blue-collar level.”

“Locals need to know they own this place,” Aten said. “We need to remind people, ‘This is your home; this is your backyard, so come play here, come use this place.’”

A second workshop on the Expo’s master plan is slated for June. Afterward the fair board would likely vote on the proposal in July, according to Expo CEO Joe Anderson.

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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.

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