Two Napa Valley vintners’ plan to revamp Vallejo’s north Mare Island gets nod to City Council

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Two Napa Valley vintners want to revamp 157 acres of waterfront at the north end of Mare Island in Vallejo into a 1.2 million-square-foot hub for filmmaking and wine production. And that's the plan staff is recommending the City Council move forward with at a special meeting Tuesday.

One of eight redevelopment proposals the city received by the March 30 deadline, plan from the Nimitz Group includes 600,000 square feet of soundstages and other film production facilities on 56 acres and 365,000 square feet of wine warehousing, production, administrative offices and tasting facilities on 15 acres. Also proposed are 100,000 square feet of office space on 10 acres, 75,000–100,000 square feet of mixed-use space for commercial or retail businesses on 20 acres, and 37,000 square feet of industrial space on 20 acres. The remaining 36 acres would have a park and open space.

The proposal estimated that the project would create 1,500–1,600 jobs, and 75 percent of the space already has takers, based on received letters of intent to lease. Interested companies include SHM Partners Film Mare Island and vintners Joel Gott Wines and Safe Harbor Wine Partners.

Key to why city staff said they are backing the Nimitz Group proposal is "local knowledge and experience." Behind it are Dave Phinney of Orin Swift Cellars and The Prisoner fame, together with East Coast farming and banking billionaire Gaylon Lawrence Jr., who purchased Heitz Wine Cellars in April for an estimated $180 million. The proposal said Phinney and Lawrence met through mutual friends, and Phinney took him on a tour of his Savage & Cooke Distillery, which recently opened in the redeveloped commercial areas to the south on Mare Island.

"The timing of this proposal combined with growth in other parts of the city has created real momentum for Vallejo," said City Manager Greg Nyhoff in announcing the recommendation Thursday.

If the City Council agrees to proceed with the Nimitz Group plan, it would enter an exclusive negotiating rights agreement that would run for 120 days. During that time, studies would be conducted such as economic impact and conceptual plans. The goal is for a formal development proposal to be submitted to the city by the end of this year.

Summaries of the other seven North Mare Island proposals are available in the staff report for the May 15 special meeting. The other companies EPS; Innovative Proprietary Advisors; LDK Ventures, which purchased the 800,000-square-foot vacant SaveMart warehouse in Vacaville last year; Oxbow Partners; Samuelson Schafer; Sonnenblick Development; and Sym Soil Incorporated.

Phinney sold The Prisoner group of wine brands in 2009 and Orin Swift Cellars in 2016. He used proceeds from the latter to fund the Vallejo distillery project, according to the North Mare Island proposal.

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