Friday, June 12, 2009


Questions About the Future
Downtown Napa
Redevelopment and Growth
By John M. Olney.
Copyright April 22, 2009, all rights reserved by
Wine Country Marketing and Promotions,
1370 Trancas St., #409, Napa, CA 94558
Phone: 707-299-9548
Web site:

Recently I got interested in just how much empty retail and office space exists in downtown Napa so I went out and photographed all the buildings that are advertised as available to lease/rent, along with those that are obviously empty even if no signage indicated there was space available.

Then right after I did that the NV Register published an article dated April 9, 2009, on the downtown area, The article discussed the City of Napa’s announcement that it was increasing the amount of money it has committed to develop a “Downtown Specific Plan.” The increased fees will add a “15-person Steering Committee” to the plan’s development that is supposed to be available in late 2010.

I decided to make comment about what I found and to make some observations about what I believe would significantly enhance the appearance of the downtown area, and thus, bring back customers -- both locals as well as visitors.

I have written a couple of article that relate to what I am suggesting in this newest article:
My article of January 2, 2009, “A magnificent Emporium From COPIA Ashes,” which was titled not by me but by the Napa Valley Register (NVR), offered the opinion that the Napa River Oxbow Redevelopment area on the east side of Soscol is the “Park Place and Boardwalk” area of Napa because it already contains elements of high end lodging, dining and to a limited extent shopping, plus the attraction of the railroad train passenger depot, all of which are fundamentally and primarily of interest to visitors of the county whether a friend of a resident, a business traveler or a tourist. In addition, yes, some residents do use the facilities that are available.
My second article, again, titled by the NVR, "Hotel Summit and Essence of the Valley,"calls for the locals and the planning officials to look at ALL future building types to be allowed and not just hotels as one county supervisor is proposing. The supervisor stressed traffic caused by hotels. Instead of blaming hotels one should applaud then because they spread out traffic. They decrease day-visit-only traffic loads which is two trips a day instead of an entry trip one day and an exit another day. In essence, hotels are a form of staggered traffic flow. They are also a boon to dollars spent in the local economy.

I prepared my newest comments in three parts as briefly described below. There are plenty of photographs to support my contentions.

Part 1: Click here >>> Mixed Building Use -Office, Retail and Residential -- Problems of, and with, downtown Napa

If I was a potential business requiring storefront window visibility for my products, I would definitely not chose many of the older buildings because of their drab appearance or setback, which I believe, would not encourage buyer entrance of the store. As I walked around, I could not help but notice all the second floor space above older buildings that was obviously not being used. In fact, from the looks of it when I studied the windows, it appeared the upstairs areas have not been used for sometime.

Within the last year, there were five buildings either opened or are still under construction in the downtown area. Looking at the new buildings, I would have to consider how much I’m going to have to pay per sq ft to gain their new slick appearance which I believe will attract potential customers. Therefore, I would have “looks” versus “lease/rent cost “determinations to make.

Part 2: Click here >>> Visitor & Tourist Overnight Lodging

I also looked at existing, under construction and future plans for the development of hotel-type lodging facilities for guests of local residents, business travels and tourists wanting to stay in the immediate downtown Napa area.

I have difficulty understanding the recent comments of many about how the growth of hotels is causing so many problems for local Napan’s in terms of bringing too much “tourism” to downtown Napa and making it a shopping area not particularly friendly to locals.

The Napa Valley Hotel & Suites (formerly Travel Lodge), the oldest and formerly only downtown lodging facility in recent years, and the new Napa River Inn are the only real downtown open hotel facilities with easy walking distance of the immediate downtown shopping area. They represent only about 100 plus rooms and assuming double occupancy, that is only an average of about 200 possible shoppers in the downtown area per day assuming 100% occupancy.

The Avia-Boutique is not even open, and the Westin only just recently opened but it is across the wide street of Soscol away from the immediate downtown shopping area, as is the River Terrace Inn. Both of the latter are within reasonable walking distance of the immediate downtown shopping area but only under nice weather conditions.

I just do not see how these five facilities, only these five, could have changed the retail shop composition or offered products in the downtown area except for the addition of wine tasting rooms.

Part 3: Click here>>> Attracting Resident and Visitor Consumers to Downtown Napa

What brings Visitors to Napa County?
Obviously, the wineries are by far the largest attraction of visitors to the county and because there are so few lodging facilities in the mid to low price range, the vast majority of visitors are here only for the day before they retreat to surrounding cities. The other large attractions are the fine dining facilities, quality golf courses and the Outlet stores. However, all of the latter remain a single day visit with the exception of the resort type golf complexes of Meadowood and Silverado.

Lack of Quality City Guides
Although the city government web site invites people to visit “historical Napa,” it goes no further to explain why it is a historical place to visit. The City of Napa does not offer a pamphlet or booklet available to locals or tourists that features historical moments and places that made Napa the first and major city of the county back in the 1830’s all the way through time up to today. There should be statues and plaques located at the significant historical sites and near residencies of famous events and individuals associated to the history of Napa.

Where no original buildings exist at such sites today, there should be photo/artist renditions of what the area/site looked like when the moment/event occurred. These displays would be like what you see when you visit a bird/animal sanctuary or marsh or a vista area area showing and describing the residing species, plants, hills, valley's, etc.

Traffic Flow
The existing mix of the narrow one-way street traffic flow mixed with on-street parking and the centralized bus system passenger transfer depot must be replaced with a much better routing system for traffic and the transit system must be relocated to a downtown fringe area in order to make the downtown area easily accessible to both local and visitor shoppers.

Modernization of Store Fronts and Awnings/Overhangs
Development of a plan and funding resources to assist needy property owners remodel their street front space to give the downtown area a “clean and theme look” so locals as well as visitors can casually stroll and shop once again in the downtown area while looking at vibrant, alive buildings rather than cold and drab storefronts.

Consequences of Downtown Redevelopment

A famous old physics statement applies here: “For every action there is an equal reaction”

In order to redevelop the downtown area, the residents, businesspersons and government officials are going to have to accept the fact that office/retail and lodging developers are not going to build structures that cannot earn them reasonable return on their investment.

These developers/business owners are going to demand a road traffic routing system that makes it easy for clients/consumers to access their buildings. This includes sufficient parking both on and off street.

The cleanliness and amenities of new, modern buildings will far out pace the appearances and utility of old time buildings.

Residential housing development is likely only going to come in the form of multi resident buildings - condominium, townhouses, lofts and apartments. Single-family new housing is not likely to occur on any large scale.

The new housing is going to be fairly expense and not likely to be attractive to the older generations reaching the end of their lifespan. They are not going to want to worry about paying off a mortgage again at their ages and lifestyles.

The majority of the heirs of the latter group are not likely to move into their parent’s home; rather they will probably seek developer purchase of the property and just be happy with the inheritance and their modern suburban homes.

Amenities: There is going to be consumer demand that these developers provide the type of mini parks, shops, stores, restaurants, lounges, clubs, etc., that these consumers find attractive or they will not come.


The bottom line is that the downtown area cannot go back to what older residents once perceived it was. Instead, it must modernize through change to today’s designs, technologies and consumers desires.

This will require a stiff spine in planning departments and city councils. It will require downtown merchants to accept, indeed, join in the remodeling and redevelopment process.

To fail to accept and/or do these things will doom the downtown area to a very long and painful, but inevitable, decline into a skid row neighborhood.

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