The abandoned Louisiana ArtWorks building now up for sale would house the New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute under a plan unveiled Monday by prominent restaurateurs and officials from Delgado Community College, the University of New Orleans and Tulane University.

Launch Pad, a tech startup and the other known bidder for the failed building, also added details of its bid on Monday. The three entrepreneurs behind Launch Pad want to create a place where all kinds of artists can collaborate on their projects.

Other bidders who have yet to go public with their plans also could offer to buy the building, which has 93,000 square feet of space and was shut down two years ago amidst a financial calamity. The state and the city have invested $18 million in public funds in the building.

The bids are due at the close of business on Tuesday. But the private, nonprofit board that controls the building won’t reveal until Wednesday morning how many bids were submitted — if it does at all. William Hines, the leading member of the newly reconstituted, five-member board for the Louisiana Artists Guild, will be traveling Tuesday afternoon.

Hines, who is managing partner at the Jones Walker law firm, said the board may decide not to identify the bidders because it is a private entity. However, he acknowledged that because public money has been invested in the project, the state requires that the buyer outline a “public purpose” and would have to approve the sale.

$25 millionInvested in ArtWorks building in public and private funds$4.5 millionAppraised value of building in 2012

The state is owed $2.5 million for a loan given to create the complex. It also provided $8.5 million in construction funds, state records show. The city loaned $7.1 million for the building, of which $6.8 million is still outstanding, according to city records. Both the state and the city can veto the board’s choice if the purchase price does not cover their loans.

In all, the city and the state have sunk $18 million into renovating two existing structures and building a third to create the ArtWorks complex just off of Lee Circle. Private donors are estimated to have chipped in another $7 million, for a total of $25 million. But the state appraised the building in 2012 for just $4.5 million.

At a news conference Monday, leaders of the project to create a culinary institute expanded on their plans, previously reported by The Lens. Appearing at the event across the street from the ArtWorks building were:

  • Ti Martin, whose family owns Commander’s Palace and other popular New Orleans restaurants

  • George Brower, representing Dickie Brennan, whose company owns the Palace Café and other restaurants. He’s Martin’s cousin.

  • Monty Sullivan, Delgado’s chancellor

  • Peter Fos, UNO’s president

John Besh and several other well-known restaurateurs lent their support, as well as a dozen students from Delgado’s existing culinary arts institute at the college’s City Park campus.

Under the plan, Delgado would move its culinary arts institute to the ArtWorks building and expand it to include an executive chef program. This program would allow restaurants to train their top chefs in New Orleans instead of sending them out of the state as they do now.

Delgado would educate students who wanted only a two-year culinary arts degree. UNO would provide two more years of schooling for those who wanted further expertise in cooking or hospitality. And Tulane would offer a master’s program.

In an interview afterward, Brower, an expert in finance and Dickie Brennan’s brother-in-law, declined to specify the group’s purchase price, but he outlined how the purchase and renovation would be financed:

  • $6.2 million loan from First NBC Bank

  • $3.7 million in state and federal historic and New Markets tax credits

  • $9 million specified for a culinary arts institute in a 2013 law

The Patrick F. Taylor Foundation and the Goldring Family Foundation have each provided a $1 million guarantee for the First NBC loan.

Delgado and the restaurateurs would hope to open the institute in mid-2016.

While the culinary arts institute held a press conference, Launch Pad provided more details of its bid online. Project leaders envision tenants such as visual artists, printmakers, artists, fashion designers and animation and mobile game studios.

“New Orleans could be the best place in the world to build a career as a creative worker and artist,” wrote Chris Schultz, one of the company’s three owners. “We can ignite the arts community to deliver on this promise.”

Tyler Bridges

Tyler Bridges covers Louisiana politics and public policy for The Lens. He returned to New Orleans in 2012 after spending the previous year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, where he studied digital journalism....