Copia, Napa Valley’s troubled wine and culture centre, is set to undergo extensive changes as its new director looks to increase attendance.

Arthur Jacobus will take the reins of the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts from Peggy Lohr, who resigned as founding executive director last year for personal reasons.

He is due to take the post in July and plans to implement changes to the centre that could significantly increase its visibility and attendance.

The construction of an adjacent, long-planned 160-room hotel should begin this year, and Copia also plans a new gourmet market inspired by those at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, Pike’s Market in Seattle and Faneuil Hall in Boston.

The proposed Oxbow Market would contain about 30 small, locally-owned businesses including restaurants, a bakery, and fresh-food suppliers.

Other proposals include an expansion of the centre’s three year-old food and wine awards, with organisers aiming for higher visibility via glitzy television coverage.

Jacobus also plans a chain of small retail stores including one at Pier 39 in San Francisco, and participation in a food-oriented children’s television show.

When Copia opened in Napa Valley in 2001, with extensive funding from vintner Robert Mondavi, supporters predicted it would become a major force in the world of wine and food.

Unfortunately the centre opened just after the terrorist attack of 9/11, when the dot-com boom collapsed and the US economy slowed to a crawl, halving attendance to 150,000 per year instead of the 300,000 expected.

Contributing to the problem, criticism has been levelled at the organisers, saying there is little for the general public to see or do. Copia has excellent classes and programs, but not much for walk-through visitors. Jacobus hopes to increase the level of activity at Copia to make it a more interactive experience for visitors.

Written by Paul Franson