More celebrations in the heart of Napa are no longer shutting off the streets in downtown.
The city’s movement to relocate festivals away from First and Main streets – and keep those routes flowing with the arrival of a major hotel and revived shopping center – is well underway, with the Napa Bike Fest, Earth Day celebration and July Fourth festivities shifting to the year-old Oxbow Commons park.
Next to make the move in August will be Napa Humane’s Walk for Animals, a procession of dogs, cats and owners that will start and end at the Napa River flood bypass for its fifth edition Aug. 7.
In October, Napa’s Halloween weekend festival also will arrive at the Commons, with its soapbox-derby-style Coffin Races moving off First Street to McKinstry Street, according to Katrina Gregory, city recreation manager.
The migration plays to a key purpose of the Commons, a quarter-mile-long and 300-foot-wide greenbelt completed in 2015 as a relief channel for high wintertime water levels in the Napa River. Shortly after the opening of the bypass, city parks officials began recommending it as a venue for large-scale gatherings during the dry months, when it serves as a linear park with landscaping, seating and walking trails.
A report from the Parks and Recreation Department recommended shifting as many as 13 of the 26 annual downtown events off streets and onto the Commons, cutting down on disruptions to traffic and store owners in an area gaining in tourists, shops and traffic.
First Street, in particular, is expected to see an increase in visitors with the Archer hotel’s projected 2017 opening at the site of the long-dormant Merrill’s drug store and a renovation of the old Napa Town Center shopping arcade.
Napa’s largest pet-oriented gathering, the Walk for Animals, is the next major event headed for the Commons, replacing its original site at Veterans Memorial Park. The animal parade’s redrawn route will use McKinstry Street across the flood bypass as its starting and ending point, using walking paths in the Commons, the sidewalk of the First Street bridge and the promenade of Napa’s Riverfront.
While the Walk for Animals’ new route may be less visible than its old path on First and Main, Napa Humane’s executive director still declared it a gain for pets and owners alike.
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“Our supporters are excited about the new location, the longer route, and having more space for activities and room to spread out,” Jane Albert said Monday. “We’re looking forward to it and so are they. We’ll be able to spread our wings with new kinds of demonstrations and activities for pups and people alike.”
Some of downtown Napa’s busiest summer festivals, however, will be among the hardest to relocate.
The Main Street Reunion auto show and Blues, Brews & BBQ will take place on successive August weekends and again require street closures, according to the city and the Napa Downtown Association, which organizes both events. First Street will shut down for both festivals, and the Main Street Reunion will close its namesake route as well.
Though talks about moving the events are continuing between the Downtown Association and city, space demands rule out the Commons and will require looking at other sites after the Archer hotel opens, said Craig Smith, executive director of the downtown merchants’ group.
“When we do the Show and Shine (Aug. 19 on the first day of the two-day Reunion), that’s 150 vintage cars and that takes up the entire Copia south parking lot, 19,000 square feet – and the Commons only has 5,000 square feet in which to park cars,” he said. “So it’s one-quarter the size we need, and then the (second-day) car show is 400 cars. So it physically can’t work there.”
In addition, Blues, Brews & BBQ Aug. 27 showcases its musicians on three stages, too many for the Commons to hold, according to Smith.
Possibilities for the festivals may include staging the car show only on Main Street or shifting Blues, Brews & BBQ one block south to Second Street, but “nothing is set in stone,” he said.
“The (Downtown Association) board is just now looking at what will happen in 2017,” said Smith. “… Once both events take place next month, we will look right after that.”