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Copia accuses lenders of mishandling $71 million refinancing

  • 5/5/2009: B4: The Copia complex, seen here in May of last year, has been closed since November, when the food, wine and arts center in downtown Napa ran out of cash. Competing groups have offered up plans in bankruptcy court to reopen the center.

    PC: The Copia Center which houses the new restaurant The Bistro @ Copia in Napa during its first day of operation on Thursday May 22, 2008. The were open but still in the process of setting up as they will soon add art and a flat screen to the wall behind the counter. Scott Manchester / The Press Democrat

The bankruptcy case of Copia has taken a new turn with the defunct wine center in downtown Napa accusing its bank and bond insurer of mishandling a $71 million deal to refinance the complex.

In court papers filed this week, Copia said Bank of New York Mellon and ACA Financial Guaranty Corp. committed a breach of trust in their 2007 refinancing of the center, which closed in November after running out of cash. Copia?s documents included a draft of a lawsuit seeking $71 million in damages from the two companies.

Copia attorney Jean Barnier on Friday said the wine center is holding off suing while it holds settlement talks.

?We believe it?s a very strong case,? she told U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Alan Jaroslovsky in Santa Rosa.

Barnier also said a group of Napa business leaders is trying to reopen the center, but it needs more time to put the deal together.

Louis Cisz, an attorney for ACA and the Bank of New York, declined comment. The two financial institutions have denied any wrongdoing.

Copia, also known as the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, opened in 2001 and hosted more than a million visitors since.

Napa vintner Robert Mondavi, who died last year at age 94, launched the 12-acre project on the Napa River with a $25 million donation. The 80,000-square-foot museum featured art galleries, gardens, food and wine classes and Julia?s Kitchen, a restaurant named for famed chef Julia Child.

But the nonprofit lost more than $5 million a year, according to Copia?s filings in bankruptcy court.

Copia borrowed almost $70 million in 1999 to build and open the facility. The complex deal used tax-exempt bonds issued by California?s Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank, a state agency also known as I-Bank.


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