Three entrepreneurs who own the Launch Pad collaborative in the Warehouse District are planning to bid on the ArtWorks building, a nonprofit facility for artist studios and galleries that collapsed financially in 2011.
The Launch Pad plan ensures there will be more than one bidder for the vacant building, which is just off Lee Circle. Government and private donors spent a total of $25 million on the failed ArtWorks project, which was conceived by the Arts Council of New Orleans. Last year the state appraised the building at $4.5 million. Bids are due on Dec. 3.
As The Lens reported 10 days ago, a group of prominent restaurateurs have combined forces with Delgado Community College to bid on the building and, if successful, turn it into a state-of-the-art cooking school.
“By all means, we’re the underdog,” said Chris Schultz, 39, one of Launch Pad’s three founders.
Their bid is closer to the ArtWorks concept.
“We are trying to connect with the original vision for the building — to help artists,” said Schultz. “One of the keys to making the building work is having a sustainable model for the building. We want to transfer our model — interfacing technology and entrepreneurship — to the arts world.”
Schultz, Will Donaldson, 30, and Barre Tanguis, 40, created Launch Pad in 2009 to tap into and nurture New Orleans’ emerging start-up community. With 12,000 square feet currently under lease on four floors of a Warehouse District building, Launch Pad offers space to start-ups through three principal arrangements: any available desk for $275 a month; a reserved desk for $450 a month; an office for $700 to $1,600 a month.
In all, about 75 individuals or small companies — a total of 170 people — currently rent Launch Pad space. Two other incubators — Propeller and 4.0 School — got their start at Launch Pad.
A 2011 Wall Street Journal article reported that shared workspaces “are the latest trend in office space.” It featured Launch Pad. “This is the future of New Orleans,” Schultz said.
Schultz, Donaldson and Tanguis say shared workspace helps someone with a good idea find collaborators, whether at the coffeemaker, the bar next door or at one of the frequent nighttime meet-ups in Launch Pad’s space — computer hackers, for example, gathering to tackle a shared problem.
“The community is self-serving,” said Tanguis. “The lawyer on the fourth floor might need someone who could design a website. Or the filmmaker needs a graphic designer.”
Launch Pad gets a thumbs up from Michael Hecht, president and chief executive officer of Greater New Orleans Inc., and from Kurt Weigle, president and chief executive officer of the city’s Downtown Development District.
“They’ve filled the ecosystem for start-ups,” Hecht said.
“We have partnered with Launch Pad to promote the digital media economy downtown,” Weigle said.
Both Hecht and Weigle stressed that they aren’t taking a position on Launch Pad’s bid for the ArtWorks building.
Schultz said the building has 63,000 square feet of space that can be leased. In addition to about 25 artist studios, they envision galleries, general offices and a nonprofit that would teach children how to use arts-oriented tools and equipment.
Schultz, Donaldson and Tanguis — all three of them relatively recent arrivals in New Orleans — describe themselves as for-profit businessmen who won’t rely on foundations or government assistance. They say Launch Pad has been profitable each year.
As with any other bidders, Launch Pad will need to demonstrate a “public purpose” for the ArtWorks building. That’s required by the state, which invested nearly $11 million in loans and construction dollars to create the five-story complex.
The city is owed $6.8 million that it loaned to the failed venture.
A five-member board of the Louisiana Artists Guild will choose the winner. But the state and the city could veto the selection if the bid yields less than $2.5 million owed to the state and/or $6.8 million to the city.
Hayden Wren is handling the sale pro bono for Corporate Realty.
“We have lots of activity on the building,” Wren said. “I think we’ll have enough bidders to satisfy the city and the state, providing the dollars are there.”