Copia, Napa’s Food & Wine Center In Financial Trouble

copia Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts , Napa Valley’s gorgeous shrine to food and wine may be a wonderful place to visit but the Sacramento Bee reveals that it is a bit of a financial albatross.

The 80,000-square-foot center was built with a $20 million gift from the late Robert Mondavi and has relied on a tiny state-owned bank, Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank, or I-Bank for short, which gave the center a $77 million bailout. Now the small bank is in deep trouble due to the subprime mortgage crisis and is facing an Aug. 11 deadline to come up with cash to back its guarantees.

According to the Bee, I-Bank authorized the first bond offering for Copia in 1999 for $70 million which backed the construction of the buildings and grounds that include indoor and outdoor kitchens, a demonstration vineyard and organic vegetable gardens, cooking and tasting classrooms and a 240-seat auditorium.

Copia is also home to two restaurants and a large gift shop. But many tourists prefer to spend their time at individual wineries rather than at Copia. Since it opened in 2001 it has lost between $4.2 million and $12 million a year and has $14 million deficit, according to the 2007 annual report. Even though I-Bank knew Copia was in deep trouble, it approved Copia’s financial rescue in April 2007 and authorized the bond refinancing deal three months later through New York-based securities firm JPMorgan.

The Bee also reports that Copia faced scrutiny over how it was using the space and facilities built with its first round of tax-exempt bond money. An IRS agent found that Copia was using far more than the allowable five percent of its space for business activities putting the center’s tax-exempt status in jeopardy.

The article’s commenters have some fascinating ideas for Copia, including turning into a museum to honor the late Robert Mondavi . Others argue that is was flawed from the get-go and an unnecessary expense for a region that already has so many wine and food options.