Acting on a tip he received in a bar in Shanghai two years ago, Barry McComic checked out the urban landscape in downtown Napa, and has since invested millions in the city and shows no sign of slowing down.

McComic’s San Diego-based real estate investment firm, RBMC Advisors LLC, has purchased the Napa Valley Register building on Second Street, acreage along the Napa River, is in agreement to purchase property near the Culinary Institute of America’s planned renovation of the Copia building, and is nearing agreement on several other projects.

The investments come just two years after a 6.0 magnitude earthquake damaged large areas of downtown, including the newspaper building, and work to rebuild in some places is ongoing. The investments also come as Napa is hurting for housing, as the growing economy continues to create more jobs than places to live. Both of these were motivations for RBMC to invest in downtown Napa.

“The buildings were too expensive to retrofit. Napa suffered a lot of damage and in many instances the owners did not have the wherewithal to mediate the problem,” said McComic.

RBMC develops mostly residential communities in Southern California. The McComic family also owns Vesta Pacific, a contracting company, and McComic is chairman and CEO of Transworld Capital Limited, a registered Commodity Trading Advisor in Shanghai, where he lives part-time.

It was there McComic says he had the bar conversation with the head of Bacardi Asia Pacific, and a senior executive from PepsiCo, who suggested McComic look into Napa.

He did.

“I’ve been in real estate for more than 30 years. When I saw the (The Register) property I said, ‘This is a winner.’”

The property has everything McComic said he looks for in an investment. It’s within walking distance to restaurants, the Napa River and venues nearby like the Oxbow Public Market.

RBMC paid $5 million for the Register building. His plans call for construction of a $40 million mixed-use development including 51 townhouses and 6,000 feet of commercial space for a bookstore and shared office space. Townhouses will range from about 1,000 to 1,600 square feet, priced for professionals and business owners, he says. The project is expected to be completed in fall 2017.

The owners also threw in the Register’s damaged printing press which McComic wants to turn into a permanent sculpture exhibit.

RBMC also purchased 2.2 acres along the Napa River in the Oxbow district, from Napa County for $4.4 million. McComic said the company also has an agreement with ACA Financial Guaranty Corp., which insures the bonds that funded Copia, to purchase seven acres adjacent to the Copia property, with plans for a mixed-use development.

The CIA purchased the long-vacant Copia last year and has turned it into a facility focused on food and wine programs and events. The Copia sits next to the Oxbow Marketplace, 40,000 square feet of space devoted to local food and beverage vendors.

McComic said he is “dead set” on making sure the Napa River is opened up to the public. As part of that, he has purchased a 70-foot, Italian-made Azimuth yacht, with plans for floating bed-and-breakfast lodging on the Napa River. It has four state rooms, a deck for a trio or quartet to play music and lights up at night. McCormic said he is in talks with a local restaurant to provide catering. The boat, he said, would also be captained and make weekly trips to and from San Francisco. The boat would rent out for about $1,000 per night.

McComic thinks the city will go along with the project. But according to Napa City Manager Mike Parness, the boat B&B is probably not an option due to city limits on B&B permits and restrictions for using the city’s dock.

“It depends what he submits, and if there will be a host on the boat,” Parness said.

Meanwhile, the city has its own plans for activity on the river and is considering gondola rides, kayak and tour rentals or eco tours, with half of the dock reserved for public access.


McComic envisions Napa as a walkable city that also provides free share bikes, pocket parks including a sculpture park, and more. “What I’m trying to do is rather than make a lot of money, have fun and not lose any money. Those kinds of things (parks and ride share bikes) don’t make a lot of money directly, but enhance the community and will make Napa a more fun and inviting place to be. I want to hear people say, ‘have you been down to the sculpture garden?’”

RBCM is also closing on a deal to purchase the Italian restaurant Uva Trattoria, in Napa, with plans to convert it into a Chinese restaurant, bringing staff from China. McComic is in conversation with Yao Ming, the retired Chinese basketball player who recently opened a winery in St. Helena, to provide the house wine.

RBCM has also made an offer on land adjacent to Embassy Suites on California Avenue, where it has plans for a 48-condominium development. The area is zoned for residential, but no plans have been submitted to the city yet.

In another project, the City of Napa is looking at consolidating its seven different locations throughout downtown into a new and updated administration building on one of its three-acre sites. In the next week or two it will be sending out a request for proposals for the project, and McComic’s Vesta Pacific is waiting to see that bid.

Branching out, RBMC is also in negotiations to purchase property in Sonoma, at Broadway and Macarthur Streets, the site of a former truck repair shop. Here, plans would add housing, a family style restaurant and more shared office space.

Cynthia Sweeney covers health care, hospitality, residential real estate, education, employment and business insurance. Reach her at Cynthia.Sweeney@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4259.