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Napa County's transformation of a former pharma plant is a work in progress
Government

Napa County's transformation of a former pharma plant is a work in progress

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After five years under Napa County ownership, the multi-million-dollar, 25-acre South Campus still shows a few signs of its former life as a Dey-Mylan pharmaceutical manufacturing and research plant.

Emergency eye wash stations are still in several hallways. So are openings on the ceiling that once provided emergency body washes when people pulled rods that have since been removed.

“They’re still there ... lab spaces and clean rooms and things like that,” county Deputy Public Works Director Liz Habkirk said.

But much of the complex has been remodeled to erase the pharmaceutical past. A mix of public and private sector uses ranging from the county Health and Human Services Agency to an office for Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena to Top It Off Bottling can be found.

“There’s a lot of life down there,” Habkirk said.

Napa County has spent more than $40 million on the South Campus in Napa Valley Commons, including $25 million to buy the complex in late 2013. The immediate goal was to find a new home for the Health and Human Service Agency, which had outgrown its Old Sonoma Road site.

A $15 million remodel to two of the four South Campus buildings made room for public assistance, child therapeutic services, mental health services, public health and other Health and Human Service Agency functions.

Remodeling a former pharmaceutical facility called for some drastic transformations. One room with a 30-foot-tall ceiling contained a 20-foot-tall silver, metal tank that once held who-knows-what kind of chemicals. The space with the tank removed became part of the Therapeutic Child Care Center.

The county also tore down perimeter fencing and a guard shack that once kept the public from the Dey-Mylan labs that made nasal, allergy and other medications. It wanted a place that served the public, not a pharma-fortress.

“A more homey feeling,” Health and Human Services Agency Operations Supervisor Michelle Mendoza said.

The Health and Human Services Agency relocated there in 2016. The South Campus swallowed it up with room to spare, with the agency taking up a little under half of the 8 acres of building square footage.

Napa County has bigger ideas. The South Campus could become a hub of county functions now located in downtown Napa, from the Board of Supervisors to the Election Division to the Assessor’s Office to Planning, Building and Environmental Services to Public Works.

The Board of Supervisors in 2015 saw the remodeling price tag to create this county one-stop South Campus shop—$24 million. Talk faded.

“I think the long-term vision is still intact,” County Executive Officer Minh Tran said on Tuesday.

But at the moment, the county is focused on building a new jail, Tran said. A $128 million jail is to break ground along Highway 221 in 2020 and open in 2022 to replace the downtown jail.

When and if the proposed facilities move to South Campus moves into the spotlight, it could have big implications for downtown Napa.

With most county functions relocated to the South Campus, the county would no longer need to use the former Carithers department store building on First Street, opposite Dr. Dwight Murray Plaza. That would leave prime downtown space to be redeveloped.

County criminal justice functions such as the District Attorney’s Office could move to the county administration building on Third Street near the courts. Then the county could demolish the adjacent Hall of Justice that includes the downtown jail, freeing up still more space for redevelopment.

Finally, the county could sell its Sullivan block parking lot near Coombs and Third streets, perhaps to be developed with housing.

Someday. For now, any further, big South Campus moves are on the backburner.

“We have to take one day at a time,” Tran said.

Building Four is the most unique of the South Campus buildings, given it was outfitted as a stand-alone pharmaceutical facility. In fact, the county in 2015 unsuccessfully tried to find a pharmaceutical company to lease it.

Located here are such county functions as communications and property management, which recently relocated from Oxbow district land that the county sold to become housing. Here are local offices for Thompson, state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa and Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters.

There are also unused laboratories and long, empty hallways where footsteps echo, a kind of a sprawling pharma-ghost town where someone could get lost. If the county ever moves most of its services to the South Campus, Building Four would be the destination.

The private sector has a home at the South Campus. Top It Off Bottling leases 112,400 square feet of warehouse space—not in Building Four—for its wine bottling and barrel storage services.

“It was something that was proposed to us by a real estate person,” said David Crawford of Top It Off Bottling. “We needed space.”

Warehouse space is hard to find locally, he said.

Top It Off Bottling doesn’t have a lease directly with the county. Rather, the county in 2016 agreed to let DBL, 112 LLC pay $50,481 monthly in return for being able to market and sublet South Campus space to the private sector.

The Dey complex that opened in 1988 had lots of life at its pharmaceutical peak. In the early 2000s, some 1,000 workers at the campus at 2751 Napa Valley Corporate Drive made nasal, allergy and other medications.

Mylan Laboratories bought Dey in 2007 and shut down operations there in 2013. That came at a time when Napa County was exploring whether to tear down its Health and Human Services Agency buildings on Old Sonoma Road and build bigger on the same site.

The Mylan/Dey property offered the chance to do the Health and Human Services Agency project in one swoop, rather than piecemeal, county Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said in 2013.

An immediate outcome of the Health and Human Services Agency move to the South Campus was that the county no longer needed the now-empty 8.6-acre Old Sonoma Road site. The county recently reached a tentative deal to sell the site to Caritas Related, LLC for $7.5 million for a housing project.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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