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Dwight Murray Plaza

The city of Napa is delaying a planned renovation of Dwight Murray Plaza on downtown First Street to early 2020, electing instead to devote the first five months of 2019 to improving sidewalks on a nearby stretch of Main Street.

After comparing two planned makeovers in Napa’s core, the city has chosen to refresh sidewalks first and save rebuilding a downtown square for later.

An overhaul of Dwight Murray Plaza on First Street will be shelved until early 2020, staff members at the Public Works department told the City Council. The delay will ensure that a project to widen and improve Main Street’s sidewalks between Second and Third streets will be the only construction in the city center during the early months of 2019, reducing closures and disruption for local businesses and visitors.

Main Street will receive a $1.73 million rebuilding and widening of its walkways along with curb improvements and shifting of utility lines, senior civil engineer John Ferons reported to the council Dec. 18. Construction will start this month and is expected to wrap up by the middle of May, less than two weeks before the seventh annual BottleRock music festival opens at the nearby Napa Valley Expo on May 24.

“We’ve heard loud and clear from businesses that there’s no ‘good’ season for construction, but if you have to build, then please do it from January to May – before BottleRock hits,” said senior civil engineer John Ferons, referring to the tens of thousands converging on Napa for the annual three-day festival.

Although the council approved a modernization of Dwight Murray Plaza in 2016, the project has remained unbuilt amid ever-rising Bay Area construction costs and the need to work around buried utilities, some of which date to the site’s past life as a city block that once lined Brown Street. Ferons estimated the project cost at $1.7 million, an amount that includes cost-shaving steps taken after no contractors would meet Napa’s earlier $1.5 million target.

Napa has sought to update a plaza that opened to great fanfare in 1974 as the centerpiece of an urban-renewal push, which also saw the conversion of nearby Brown Street into a pedestrian route and the demolition of the historic Migliavacca building. The stepped and sunken city square, equipped with a timber clock tower and waterfall fountain, was intended to become the downtown area’s prime spot for festivals and public gatherings.

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However, Dwight Murray Plaza has increasingly languished with the shift of outdoor events east to newer downtown parks and its increasingly dated design. Its clock tower was removed after complaints about its styling and timekeeping, and soap-pouring incidents by vandals led Napa to switch off the fountain, which now serves as a planter box.

The proposed redesign includes filling in the seating pit and replacing its brick-like paving with a single-level surface. New tree plantings and parasol-topped tables and chairs would be added, along with an art installation by Ned Kahn composed of numerous metal tiles strung from a circular canopy that would create water-like wave effects when stirred by the wind.

Despite public works staff’s decision to push back the plaza’s revival by another year, Councilmember Liz Alessio urged the city not to lose sight of the project’s importance, particularly as hotels, restaurants and stores continue to transform downtown around it. “Of all the public spaces we present to our visitors, that’s the eyesore,” she said.

When Dwight Murray Plaza does get its makeover a year after Main Street, construction is likely to run from January to May with the same goal of avoiding BottleRock and the summer tourist season, according to Ferons.

The updates on Main Street and the plaza came as part of a progress report on downtown city improvements, which also include replacing a pedestrian bridge at Main Street over Napa Creek, a project expected to finish this year. Other projects still await funding, including a redesign of the Brown Street walking corridor – like Dwight Murray Plaza, a product of Napa’s earlier rebuilding wave in the 1970s.

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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.