Land Use
 

Civil rights museum joins bidders for failed ArtWorks complex off Lee Circle

The vacant Louisiana ArtWorks complex attracted four bids by Tuesday’s deadline, a real estate broker for the deal said Wednesday.

Hayden Wren, the broker, declined to identify the bidders for the five-story, 93,000-square-foot building complex off Lee Circle.

Two of the bidders — the New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute and Launch Pad, a tech incubator — had announced their plans in recent days. The Lens learned of a third bidder Wednesday: the advisory board of the Louisiana Civil Rights Museum.

  • The museum group wants to use the building “to report on the civil rights story for all people in Louisiana,” said Madlyn Bagneris, a retired Entergy executive and civic activist who is president of the Friends of the Civil Rights Museum. She said the museum would tell the story through permanent and traveling exhibits and serve as a place for lectures. She said the museum would have retail space to generate income.The museum was created by a unanimous vote of the state Legislature in 2004 and is supposed to be housed in New Orleans but has yet to secure the necessary funding or find a home. Bagneris said the museum has $1.5 million in state funds.

  • The culinary institute is backed by a group involving several prominent restaurateurs, Delgado Community College, the University of New Orleans and Tulane University. Their goal is to create the New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute. The institute would expand Delgado’s culinary program and include an executive-chef curriculum. The group offered $5.1 million to buy the building, according to a copy of its bid made available to The Lens. The group behind the institute revealed Monday that First NBC is prepared to lend it $6.1 million. It also has lined up $1 million loan guarantees from both the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation and the Golding Family Foundation. A 2013 law passed by the state Legislature commits $9 million for Delgado’s culinary institute. The culinary institute’s board includes three restaurateurs — Ti Martin, Dickie Brennan and John Besh — as well as Edgar Chase III, a former Dillard University business school dean who is part of the Dooky Chase’s Restaurant family. Others include George Brower, a financial expert who is Brennan’s brother-in-law, and Barbara Mollere, a former manager of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.

  • Launch Pad seeks to involve artists in an expansion of its Warehouse District program currently aimed at entrepreneurs. Launch Pad offers workspace and encourages participants to share skills. Chris Schultz, one of Launch Pad’s three partners, said Wednesday that Richard Montgomery IV, a venture capitalist, and investment banker Cooper Manning will provide additional financing as will Capital One. Schultz declined to reveal the amount of the group’s bid. “We would like to release more info about our proposal,” Schultz said, “but we want to have a conversation with the board first.”

Taxpayers have a major stake in what happens to the building. Public dollars accounted for $18 million of the estimated $25 million invested in what was supposed to be a showcase for artists and artisans. Unable to pay its bills, ArtWorks was shuttered two years ago. The state appraised the building at $4.5 million in 2012. Taxpayers would spend millions more if the culinary institute takes possession and retrofits the building.

The newly constituted board of the Louisiana Artists Guild will choose the winner, but exactly when is not clear. “We will be taking our time to work through this process,” said board spokesman William Hines, managing director of the Jones Walker law firm. Hines has not said whether the board will disclose the identities of losing bidders. Given how much public money was poured into the failed ArtWorks project, each bidder was required to propose a “public purpose” for the building.

The other four board members are:

  • Thomas Reese, the Arts Council of New Orleans’ current board chairman. Reese is a professor of art history at Tulane and executive director of the university’s Roger Thayer Stone Center for Latin American Studies.

  • Donna Klein, past board chairwoman of the Louisiana Artists Guild. She is general counsel for Peoples Health, which primarily serves Medicare patients.

  • Beverly Matheney, a civic activist and former board member of the both the Louisiana Artists Guild and the Arts Council.

  • Tara Carter Hernandez, a former board member of the Arts Council. She is president of JCH Development, a real estate and consulting company.

In determining the future of ArtWorks, the board is expected to consult with state officials and City Hall.

Approval by Louisiana’s Division of Administration was a precondition for past outlays of state money for the project.

The Division of Administration will have an additional say in the outcome if the sale price does not pay off a $2.25 million loan to the ArtWorks building extended in 2010. The state got the $2.25 million from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and must repay it, said Douglas Baker, a Division of Administration spokesman.

In 1998, the state also agreed to provide $8.45 million in construction money, Baker said. The appropriation was sponsored by then-state Sen. Diana Bajoie and the late state Rep. Avery Alexander, both New Orleans Democrats.

City officials can veto the sale if the purchase price does not repay the outstanding balance of $6.8 million on a HUD loan of $7.1 million.

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  • BigAl1825

    Civil Rights Museum on Lee Circle – sounds about right.