Careful selection of tenants said key; famed chefs a boost

NAPA -- The highly-ambitious $72 million The Riverfront project in downtown Napa will be fully leased by this spring, according to the broker on the project who listed two celebrity chefs and a veteran North Bay restaurant developer among the future tenants.

Though construction on the mixed-use, Venetian-style building wrapped up in spring, leasing seemed slow with just a piece of the 30,000 square feet of office space filled and vacancies in most of the 40,000 square feet of retail.

Main Street Properties Services broker Craig Semmelmeyer said though national interest in the property has existed since the groundbreaking, the "tipping point" really came from the recent signing of celebrity chef Masaharu Morimoto. The Iron Chef America and Japan champion signed for about 7,500 square feet for his first sushi bar concept earlier this month. Mr. Morimoto currently has restaurants in New York, Philadelphia, Boca Raton, Fla. and Mumbai.

Closely following, Food Network star Tyler Florence committed to about 2,500 square feet for a casual, rotisserie-centered eatery in the corner of the river promenade building. Mr. Florence has hosted several shows on the cooking and cuisine television network, and he operates a cookware retail store in Mill Valley.

The California resident also spent time as the culinary dean and chef at Julia's Kitchen in Copia, the food and wine center hoping to reopen.

Also last week, 21-year veteran local restaurant developer Michael Dellar signed for his seafood eatery. The Lark Creek Restaurant Group co-founder, president and chief executive officer currently leads the operation of 10 acclaimed restaurants in Marin, San Francisco, Walnut Creek, Santa Clara, Las Vegas and others.

"My expectation is that we will be 100 percent leased and opened by spring," said Mr. Semmelmeyer, who is brokering the retail portion of the project.

"What we've had to do is be very selective about the tendency and quality of the tenants. ... We have had to turn away people because we wanted businesses that people can't find anywhere else. Visitors won't come to Napa for a store that is located 10 other places in the Bay Area."

The builder of the project, Richmond-based Channel Properties, specified that tenants must be unique in concept and geared toward high-end customers, though not in an overly restrictive way. Other signed or soon-to-be-signed occupants include a specialty ice cream shop from Georgia, an artisan eyewear seller, a North Bay chocolatier and a local European-style bike shop and coffee bar relocating from another location.

River Front Construction was the developer for the project, and Walnut Creek-based Johnson Lyman Architects created the drawings. The building also includes 50 residential condos, of which about 10 have been sold. The condos are selling for between $360,000 and $1 million.

The 1.3 acre-property also includes underground parking for about 230 vehicles.

Channel Properties, a division of Channel Lumber, also recently signed a deal to develop and lease the bottom floor of the historic, city-owned Borreo building, which is also positioned riverside at Third and Soscol. The company plans to spend about $3.5 million renovating the site following a $1.4 million seismic retrofit paid for by the city.

Mr. Semmelmeyer said the developer intends to sign another unique "big name" concept to occupy the ground floor. As part of the agreement, the city will use 1,600 square feet in the 120-year-old building for a community room.

Additionally, Channel owns the historic Winship Building at First and Main streets and the Alexandria Square complex at Second and Main.