Last weekend, more than 600 Napa residents got a sneak peek at the Oxbow Public Market, one of the latest—and most anticipated—developments in downtown Napa. The market, a 40,000-square-foot retail marketplace located next door to Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, is part of a redevelopment plan designed to make downtown Napa more of a tourist destination. The market is scheduled to open on Dec. 15.
"The best way to attract tourists is to attract locals. If the community embraces the project, if it's an extension of what the community is about, they'll bring their visitors there," said Steve Carlin, CEO of the Oxbow Public Market. Carlin operated the Oakville Grocery for 20 years and managed the renovation of San Francisco's popular Ferry Building Marketplace, which was the inspiration for the Oxbow Market.
The market's current 22 tenants (there are 25 interior spaces) represent a mix of artisan food and specialty shops, restaurants, and a microwinery and wine bar. There will also be a farm stand, open daily, where seasonal, locally grown produce will be available in 10 stalls on the outside edge of the market. The facility, which will open in stages, is expected by Carlin to be about 80 percent up and running by mid-January 2008, and fully operational by summer 2008.
As of now, the millions of visitors to Napa Valley each year tend to skip downtown Napa, instead opting to visit the more scenic destinations such as St. Helena, Calistoga or Yountville. Copia, which opened in 2001 as a museum dedicated to food and wine, never drew the attendance it anticipated, and the struggles have resulted in multiple restructurings and selling off part of its land. "It's very clear that Copia has underperformed," said Carlin, "but changes are being made to improve their operation, and what role they have in the community."
This latest development of the Oxbow district—named after the oxbow bend in the river where Copia is located—is not limited to just the market itself. The Westin Verasa, a 160-unit condominium resort, is expected to open next year on the east side of Copia. And on the west side of Copia, a Ritz-Carlton has yet to break ground, but a 500-room hotel is slated to open there in 2010.
"Three years from now, you'll have a 500-room hotel, housing on either side, and the Oxbow Market will be the epicenter—a great connection to downtown Napa," said Carlin. He added that the original intent of vintner Robert Mondavi, who founded Copia with his wife, Margrit, in 1996, was to make downtown Napa the "gateway" to Napa Valley.
Two wine-themed features of the new market include a wine shop called the Oxbow Wine Merchant and Wine Bar, a venture from partners Peter Granoff, Bo Thompson and Debbie Zachareas (the team behind San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant & Wine Bar), which will feature wines from around the world. The other is Michael Mondavi's Folio Enoteca & Winery. In addition to Folio's wine shop and café, an 80-square-foot winery is included within the market, with barrels stacked behind glass walls.
For now, the Oxbow district remains off the well-traveled wine routes, but excitement for the Oxbow Public Market offers hope that this will change—bolstered by Carlin's past success with the Ferry Building.
"I think it will bring tourists," predicted Peter Marks, senior vice president of wine at Copia. "But also it will be a Mecca for locals: People who care about what food and what beverages they consume."
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