A host of hotels, restaurants and wine tasting rooms have revitalized downtown Napa. Now the city hopes to find a partner to help similarly recharge its public spaces nearby.
Napa has requested urban design and planning firms to offer proposals for its Downtown Plaza and Corridor Plan, which aims to modernize the nearly four-decade-old Dwight Murray Plaza on First Street.
The recruitment period, which ended Friday, is the first step in an upgrade officials hope will better meld public spaces and walkways with the Archer Napa hotel, the redesigned Napa Town Center, and other developments underway or planned.
The designer approved by the City Council will spend several months crafting an overall layout in the project’s first phase, with a final design developed in the second stage, according to Jennifer LaLiberte, the city’s economic development manager.
The city’s terms call for two presentations to the council, 10 meetings with stakeholders and two public forums where residents can contribute their ideas for the overhaul.
At the heart of Napa’s goals are a fresh look and purpose for Dwight Murray Plaza, which opened in 1974 but has largely failed to become the town heart it was planned to be. Though a group of restaurants occupy buildings facing the plaza, the intended landmarks for the blocky, modernist-but-dated sunken square have fallen by the wayside, with the removal of its clock tower and wooden pergolas and the conversion of a decorative fountain into a planter.
“I think it was of its time; it really did reflect some of the design aesthetic of the ‘70s, and it didn’t wear well,” said Councilwoman Juliana Inman, an architect in Napa for a quarter century.
In its current form, according to Inman, the plaza is underused compared to more people at the surrounding attractions and the chunk of land it occupies.
“People don’t really go down and sit at the lower level,” she said. “It’s just not well used. The most people I’ve ever seen down there was during the Chefs’ Market (the downtown summertime food fair discontinued after the 2013 season) when people would set up a stage and dance, but that was only time I saw it fully used.”
The city’s request letter to designers suggests adorning the site with landscaping, public art and more recreational uses – and possibly the more radical step of filling in the plaza to raise it to sidewalk level.
Properly rethought, Dwight Murray Plaza may yet become a natural gathering place, particularly for more intimate events without an obvious home, Inman said.
“There might be a way to set it up so that small performances and concerts could be held there,” she said. “We don’t always need something the size of Veterans Memorial Park.”
Designers also are being asked to consider new uses for the Brown Street pedestrian corridor. Possibilities floated in the city’s request include new bicycle and pedestrian paths along Napa Creek between First and Pearl streets, more seating, public art, outdoor dining areas, and landscaping, and reopening the stretch between First and Second streets to cars to ease access to to the nearby parking garage.