Napa retains high hopes for new Copia

NAPA -- More than a year after Copia, the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, filed for Chapter 11 protection with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Rosa, its future is still up in the air.

Leasing informationContact Alvarez & Marsal LLC

Copia opened its doors on Nov. 1, 2001 and closed them for good on Nov. 21, 2008 after a tumultuous seven-year run. Built at an initial cost of $55 million, and with major funding from Robert Mondavi and family, the non-profit center lost more than $4 million a year and never attracted the numbers of ticket buyers, memberships or donations forecast in its business plan.

“We are still evaluating possible options for Copia,” said a spokesman for Alvarez & Marsal LLC, the New York City-based real estate firm retained to market the property. “Some alternatives that have been considered include leasing part of the complex and selling other segments, but no final decision has been reached.”

The vision of Copia's founders was that it would be all things to all people when it came to discovering, understanding and celebrating wine, food and the arts in American culture.  It was billed as a cultural museum and educational center, but it was much more. It housed a rare books library, a 74-seat demonstration kitchen, wine tasting table, a gourmet restaurant named for Julia Child, a cafe, gift shop, a 3.5 acre flower and organic edible garden, an event venue with 13,000 square feet of gallery space for exhibitions, a 260-seat theater and also boasted an outdoor concert terrace with seating for 700 plus 341 parking spaces.

“Copia is one of three focus study areas being addressed in our entire downtown Napa specific plan,” said Napa City Manager Mike Parness.  “We formed a stakeholder steering committee last summer to look at the river bend Oxbow area as well as the city itself. So far six public meetings have been held and a broad-based community forum was convened to get input from those in the area.  We’re still grappling with the Copia reuse question.  Ultimately, we believe the best future for Copia, given that there are several hotels and other public attractions in close proximity, would be to serve as a business conference center or visitor/tourist facility.  Certainly, a portion of the gardens have definite community value.  We expect to have a final downtown plan in place by early 2011.”

Alvarez Marsal was retained by ACA Financial Guaranty Corporation, the bond insuring company that holds an interest in the nearly $80 million bond on the Copia property, to issue an RFP in mid-2009 seeking bidders for the center.  The bid window closed in November and the list of prospective candidates is being narrowed to a small group of serious proposals before ACA reveals who the entities are and how they plan to repurpose the facility.

“I would like to see a decision fairly quickly on who the buyer will be as well as what interim use can be made of Copia until a final plan is put into effect,” said Jill Techel, mayor of Napa.  “Even a short term option for the center would add viability to our downtown plan.  Our merchants have been very creative in this economy when it comes to figuring out what will work. If there had been no recession I’m sure we would have had resolution on this issue.  With the economy apparently getting better, I am cautiously optimistic that a new use will be found in the near term.  It's been a long time coming.”

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