LOS ANGELES -- Legislation sent to California Gov. Pete Wilson this month would authorize the creation of a governmental entity empowered to issue tax-exempt revenue bonds to finance a proposed $30 million Center for Wine, Food, and the Arts in Napa, Calif.

Wilson has until Sept. 30 to sign, veto, or allow the bill to become law without his signature.

The project "is a model for how public and private sectors, and city and state governments, can work together," John Salmon, director of Wilson's office of asset management, said Friday. Salmon said policy prohibited him from commenting "on whether the governor may or may not sign" the legislation.

Salmon noted, however, that the project has "wonderful potential to rejuvenate a city."

Project supporters are uplifted by the bill's fast-track passage through the legislature. Introduced by state Sen. Mike Thompson, D-Napa Valley, the bill passed the Assembly on a 71-to-6 vote on Aug. 16, and it won passage in the Senate on a 38-to-0 vote the next day.

Napa, with 58,000 residents, is in the southern portion of Napa County, which has a population of about 100,000. Napa Valley is California's premier grape-growing and wine-making region, with nearly 200 wineries.

Under the legislation, Napa and a state, agency called the 25th District Agricultural Association, which operates Napa's convention and trade show facility, would form a joint powers authority under the state's Joint Exercise of Powers Act.

The act empowers two or more government agencies to jointly perform functions that benefit each party, including the issuance of public enterprise revenue bonds.

The agricultural association, a branch of the California department of food and agriculture's fairs and exhibitions division, is locally known as the Napa Valley Exposition. The proposed wine, food, and arts center would be built next to the 31-acre exposition.

The private-sector component of the nonprofit center comprises a 16-member volunteer board of directors headed by Robert Mondavi, 81, a prominent vintner who is said to be the inspiration behind the project.

"He is the godfather of marketing for the Napa Valley," Dorothy Lind, chief executive officer of the agricultural association, said Friday. "He's its most well-known vintner, and a key proponent for California wines."

Mondavi and other board members have pledged to purchase a 14-acre parcel of land bordering the Napa River in downtown Napa and give it to the center. Ultimately, the land could be donated to the joint powers authority.

"His dream is to make Napa Valley a very unique example of a private-public partnership," Lind said.

Although request for qualifications have been solicited to find a master developer, Lind said it is premature to discuss assembly of a financing team for the proposed facility.

Center directors on Aug. 19 approved an architect to begin preliminary design work on the center, Lind said. The goal is to open the center within three to five years.

The proposed center site is adjacent to Napa's 330-acre redevelopment project area, and Lind said the center's construction could boost interest in the issuance of tax-increment bonds to finance other revitalization efforts.

The center would consist of exhibit halls, classrooms, research facilities, demonstration vineyards and kitchens, a conference center, a care, and an outdoor amphitheater.

Mondavi said in a statement, "This will be a center for California, the nation, and the world where the best of wine and culture can meet, work together, and share their accomplishments with the public."

The facility would be used by University of California at Davis agricultural and wine-making researchers and by representatives of the American Institute of Wine and Food, Lind said.

A draft project report titled "The Rebirth of a California City" explains the philosophy behind the Napa center.

"During these years when wine drinking is under siege from many sectors, the center, in its downtown riverfront site, [would provide] a powerful opportunity to educate the public to the responsible, civilized, and healthful style of wine-drinking Napa Valley exemplifies," the report said. It added that the center would promote "wine-on-the-dinner-table as a powerful catalyst for strengthening family life and recovering the lost sense of community America so hungers for."

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