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Now on the Market: Copia and Julia's Kitchen

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First, some background: Copia, and its restaurant (Julia's Kitchen), were originally conceived by Julia Child and wine legend Robert Mondavi back in 2001 as "the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts." Since then, the Napa Valley concept—brilliant in theory, flawed in practicality—has been all downhill. The mess came to a tipping point last year, when Copia suddenly shuttered and was later revealed to be $78 million in debt, which eventually led to a bankruptcy filing and all kinds of financial turmoil. Oh, but a comeback is finally in the beginning stages for the brainchild of Julia Child and Robert Mondavi, kind of.

This week, Copia announced that it has opened the formal sales process. In other words, with the hope that the legal shitshow of the last 12 months is a thing of the past (and lordy, a shitshow it has been), Copia is officially seeking new buyers for its massive 17-acre campus, which includes the centerpiece two-story, 78,632 square foot building and its Julia Child-inspired restaurant. But the big question, of course, is if anyone will bite on the behemoth.

Here's the full announcement (and pitch):

NAPA, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The former site of Copia, the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts that was the brainchild of legendary vintner Robert Mondavi and renowned chef Julia Child, is seeking buyers with the opening of a formal sale process.

Alvarez & Marsal Real Estate Advisory Services, LLC has been retained by ACA Financial Guaranty Corporation to market and oversee the sale of the property, which closed in November and subsequently filed for bankruptcy. Under the creditor-approved joint plan of liquidation, which is awaiting final approval from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of California, ACA, as insurer of Copia’s bonds, will have the ability to sell the property for the benefit of Copia’s bondholders.

“This property’s ideal location in the center of a world-renowned wine region, the quality and significance of its existing facilities and strong support from local government present an exciting opportunity for a new owner to develop a vibrant and valuable commercial and tourism destination,” said Jerry Pietroforte, a managing director with Alvarez & Marsal Real Estate Advisory Services, LLC. “Not surprisingly, initial interest in the property has already been significant, with a number of parties having made inquiries. We are pleased to now have a formal sale process underway.”

Located on the Napa River in the heart of Napa Valley, the property spans more than 17 acres with three contiguous parcels and will be sold or leased as a whole or as individual pieces. The centerpiece of the site is a two-story, 78,632 square foot building that previously housed the food and wine center, which opened in 2001 as a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and sharing the benefits of wine, its relationship to food and its importance to the American culture.

Featuring steel frame construction and finishes including stone, polished concrete, ceramic tile and large expanses of glass, the facility includes the former “Julia’s Kitchen” restaurant, administrative office space, 13,000 square feet of exhibition space, a 270-seat theater, a library, classrooms with audio-visual capabilities, a 127-seat demonstration kitchen forum, café and retail gift shop.

In addition to strong support from local government, the site stands to benefit from its proximity to Downtown Napa, which is currently undergoing an organized revitalization with several major projects underway and others recently completed. These include the development of a 351-room Ritz-Carlton Hotel, the Oxbow Public Market, a diverse shopping experience featuring one-of-a-kind items and artisanal and local foods and wines, as well as the new Westin Verasa Napa Hotel, which opened in October of 2008 with many of its units already pre-sold.

Designated as mixed use, the property is zoned “CT” Tourist Commercial and is considered part of the Oxbow District, which encourages hotels and motels and their related amenities and recreational facilities. In addition, the site was included in a new redevelopment area, the Soscol Gateway Redevelopment Project Area, in November 2007. Funds generated in this project area will be used primarily to fund major infrastructure improvements.

· Former Site of Napa Valley Food and Wine Center “Copia” Seeks Buyers [BW]
· Copia Files for Chapter 11 [NYT]
· All Copia Coverage [~ESF~]