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  • Writer's pictureCRAIKER

Rethinking Napa City Hall

One additional Pandemic casualty is Napa City’s ambitious plan to build a new Civic

Center. Since March, the virus’s economic impact on municipal revenues has been

staggering. When budget surpluses were common and plans for the $150 million+

facilities were an expectation, today the city will be hard pressed to balance its budget

over the next five years.

Napa has become addicted to TOT, Transient Occupancy Tax, and it’s sibling, sales

tax. Now that tourist and wine revenue are abruptly crippled, the dream of a shiny new

Civic Center and much needed Dwight Murray Plaza renovation are indefinitely on hold.

Napa must reduce every department operating budget significantly and dip into its

reserves to address the estimated $10.5 million immediate Pandemic caused shortfall. Since 2009, Napa has spent over $4 million studying various alternate plans to upgrade and/or replace the 68-year-old City Hall. Dedicated on July 26, 1952 and built for $300,000, the 19,000SF building was fine for 60 years. When I opened a B&B on First Street in the 90’s, Napa City wasn’t on travel advisory maps. Since then, the Valley and especially the city has boomed. Today, Napa has approximately 94,300SF of facilities in five city owned buildings and three leased, not including fire stations, storage, and portables.

Now, the pandemic ravishing the Nation has taking its toll on Napa’s bread and butter, and the Civic Center is on hold. Should it be totally shelved? The need for a new civic center hasn’t gone away, and the cost of maintenance of all the aging scattered facilities are only getting worse.

Now’s the time to get more creative. Not just in visualizing a structural solution but committing to what is the soul of Napa: sustainability, renewability, and wise growth should be the foundation of our emerging from this Pandemic. That’s what our vines do: why shouldn’t our city?

Let’s look at our aging City Hall. While born in the 50’s of boring Mid-Century architecture, it does have history and swagger. Rather than demolishing, we could consider repurposing to make this a multi-use development with more city offices and residential apartments. If Napa wishes to make a commitment to its future, it needs to commit to more affordable workforce housing in the heart of Napa.

This is not a wild-eye fantasy, but a practical urban solution. This year, Columbia Heights, Minnesota, will experience a new mixed-use development that city officials acknowledge as risky but believe it will be the seeds necessary to revitalize the downtown community. It’s an ambitious mixed-use development combining a new City Hall, offices, 265 market-rate apartments, coffee shop and cafe space, under one roof. Construction of the $60 million, six-story building in the city’s central business corridor is under construction now.

There aren’t many prototypes for this but any bold vision takes an element of risk.

Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB

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