A 6.0-magnitude South Napa earthquake hit city streets and destroyed buildings more than seven years ago, leaving years of scenes of devastation throughout downtown Napa.
But most of the damage caused by the earthquake is not clear today. Many damaged buildings have been repaired or demolished.
However, these visible wounds from the earthquake haven’t completely gone away yet, because three major damaged buildings in downtown Napa remain vacant, largely stuck in the same condition for years.
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The 1933 Art Deco Franklin Station Post Office building, located at 1351 Sec St in downtown Napa, is perhaps the most vivid reminder of earthquake damage.
The building now has a future planned as part of a 175,000-square-foot, five-story, 156-key hotel. This wasn’t always the case: Faced with an estimated repair bill of $8 million, the U.S. Postal Service originally considered demolishing the building for half a million dollars. But after fierce protests from Napa residents, the federal government put the building up for sale. Napa developer Jim Keller bought it for $2 million in 2017.
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Keeler said in an email that Keeler’s plans to build the hotel have been progressively advanced, and were approved by the Napa City Council in 2018. But progress has stalled over the past two years or so due to the pandemic.
Several approved Napa projects have faced pandemic-related delays, including the 253-room Marriott Hotel in Napa Valley Commons, and a proposed four-story building on First and Main Street formerly associated with Bounty Hunter Rare Wine & Spirits. (The Main Street building will fill an empty plot of land that previously housed the earthquake-damaged Don Prico and Tuscany restaurants.)
Keller writes that hospitality has rebounded strongly in Napa, and he hopes to have something to publicly announce about the hotel project in the near future.
“Unfortunately, this caused a pause in progress for a plus year, but allowed time to re-evaluate the project with new plans and programming, which should lead to a better project,” Keeler said in an email.
The 19th century Center building on Third and Brown Street is another heavily damaged historic building that has been vacant since the 2014 earthquake. Owner Brian Silver installed the building in 2015, but did not repair it for occupancy.
Silver said in an interview that he eventually plans to integrate a renovated central building with the surrounding buildings, a project that will also include building a replica of the Nappa Masonic Temple that was demolished in the early 1970s to make way for a 2nd Street parking garage.
This project will also include the rebuilding of the York Building next door to the Centre, which was demolished about a year after the earthquake, Silver said. He added that the completed project will help bring tourists to downtown Napa.
Silver has had this plan at least since 2017, according to a log article that year about residual damage from the earthquake.
The center building was included in the Napa County Landmarks List of “10 Treasures in Danger” last year. According to the listing, Landmarks board members have been told Silver has an architect for a planned rehabilitation, but no clear progress has been made so far.
Napa Mayor Scott Sedgley said Silver has not yet submitted any plans to the city regarding the building’s rehabilitation.
The scars visible and invisible remain on the fifth anniversary of the 2014 earthquake that dealt a major blow to Napa.
“If the owner is not willing to move this project, I imagine there will be some sort of work to try to get something there,” Sedgley said.
Despite extensive damage to many historic properties, perhaps the greatest impact of the earthquake was the loss of a grocery store downtown. Safeway in downtown Napa, located at 1620 Clay St, remains closed seven years after it was first closed as a result of the earthquake.
The city’s development coordinator, Neil Harrison, said there is interest from developers in converting the site into affordable or mixed-income housing, possibly including a grocery store in the lower part of the building. But whether the project will actually take place will depend on whether the property owner Hagstrom Properties negotiates a deal to sell the property or commits to a joint venture with a developer.
“It looked like it had been for seven years now,” said city community development manager Finn Smith. “That’s kind of long enough.”
Safeway is still on lease for the property and will continue for several more years. A 2016 story stated that Safeway’s lease ran “for more than 10 years,” which puts the lease ending in around 2026.
Sedgley said he spoke with Safeway executives when the Napa City Council was discussing requiring larger grocery stores to pay hazard pay during the pandemic. He said they told him that the landlord refused to negotiate the purchase of the lease.
According to city representatives in a 2016 Register article, Safeway required a non-compete clause to prevent another grocery store from opening on the premises before allowing the building to be released to a new tenant.
Soil contamination is cleaned up from dry cleaners that were running in the house next door.
The urban legend was that Seafoy kept it vacant to avoid competition. That could not be further from the truth,” said Sedgley. The fact that the building is privately owned and that its owners refused to negotiate a lease purchase. Seavoy is legally bound by this lease and the owners are comfortable just getting any A monthly payment for it.”
A representative for Hagstrom Properties did not respond to a request for comment. A Safeway representative said in an email, “We continue to market our former downtown Napa sublet store to both grocery and non-grocery retail tenants. At this time, it is too early to comment or disclose the case due to the confidential nature of any business negotiations.”
Smith said he is making efforts to encourage conversations between property owners and potential developers of Safeway. He said that a number of companies interested in the site had come and gone over the years, but that the property owners were not willing to work with them.
“It’s been family owned for a long time,” Smith said. “I imagine the money they make is providing some comfort lifestyles and so they don’t want to modify it. I get that but we’re kind of at the point where we’re really excited to see something better happen with this site than it has been over the past seven years.”
Environmental remediation related to the former dry cleaning site next door is still underway, but Harrison said the cleanup appears to be on track, according to conversations he had with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Monitoring Board, the responsible agency.
A healthy city center includes housing and walkability, which includes people who have access to needed goods and services within walking distance of where they live, Harrison said. Right now, he said, people who live downtown generally have to drive to buy groceries. That means more traffic, Harrison said, which isn’t good for the environment and makes downtown a less attractive place to live.
“I think there are a lot of properties around downtown or so that are a bit stuck,” Harrison said. “You have the situation here where Safeway still has several years on the lease; they’re obligated because they have a lease to keep paying. The landlord gets money from that and doesn’t have to do anything. And then you have developers coming in, spinning around, like, ‘” Hey, this is a great site.”
“You have a city and a community that want to see more housing, that want to see a grocery store again, but there are limited amounts of things the city can do and want to do on private property,” Harrison added. “We’re not going to do, at this point, anything too drastic, and we’re not going to want to. So it’s kind of stuck.”
In early October, a group of volunteers from Napa County Landmarks gathered at the historic downtown Napa Post Office. Their goal: to repackage the huge lanterns that line the entrances to the Post Office. The post office was badly damaged in the 2014 earthquake and has since been sold for development.
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