Training tomorrow’s top chefs has won out over a plan that would have fostered artistic entrepreneurs.

A nonprofit panel set up to review competing bids has accorded The New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute the right to recycle the shuttered ArtWorks complex on Howard Avenue near Lee Circle.

Since Katrina there has been a groundswell of interest in developing a culinary institute in a city recognized internationally for its cuisine. “Not to have one is a missing piece for the New Orleans scene,” said William Hines, the Jones Walker law firm’s managing partner who chaired the nonprofit selection committee.

The institute, created to bid on the project, comprises several prominent restaurateurs in collaboration with three institutions of higher education:

  • Delgado Community College
  • The University of New Orleans
  • Tulane University

The restaurateurs include Dickie Brennan, Ti Martin and John Besh. The consortium hopes to begin teaching would-be chefs in January 2016.

The nonprofit Louisiana Artists Guild will sell the five-building ArtWorks complex for $6.2 million. The institute will need to spend another $9 million or so on renovations.

ArtWorks was the brainchild of Shirley Trusty Corey and the Arts Council of New Orleans, a city-affiliated agency. In constructing and renovating the five adjoining buildings, the council created a spectacular, 93,000 square-foot home for artist studios, galleries and the like before collapsing in 2011, unable to pay its debts. In all, creating ArtWorks cost $25 million. A 2012 appraisal by the state captured the financial disaster. The building was worth only $4.5 million.

Not just food lovers and the restaurant industry will have a major stake in the culinary institute. Tax revenues invested in the failed arts project came to $18 million, and the institute will tap another $15 million in state and federal dollars.

The sale to the culinary institute required the approval of state and city officials because the $6.2 million sale price does not permit full repayment of the $2.25 million that the state spent in constructing ArtWorks and the $6.8 million owed to the city on what was originally a $7.1 million loan.*

The two spurned bidders were:

  • The Launch Pad Collaborative, which offers work space to small-scale entrepreneurs in a Warehouse District building. Its failed $6.2 million bid for the building complex was predicated on creating a similar facility for artists.* Launch Pad’s co-founders – Chris Schultz, Barre Tanguis and Will Donaldson – acknowledged that they were underdogs in any competition with the culinary institute and its high-profile backers.
  • The Louisiana Civil Rights Museum, which has been looking for a home since it was authorized by the state Legislature in 2004. The museum offered $8.2 million.*

A fourth bidder, New Orleans businessman Rick Farrell, dropped out early in the process.

Schultz of the Launch Pad Collaborative was already looking past the lost ArtWorks opportunity Wednesday afternoon. “We’re hoping to execute our vision in another building,” he said.

The fulcrum of the consortium that won the buildings is Delgado, which will move its culinary institute to the ArtWorks structure. Delgado’s current program — which serves about 400 students — offers two-year degrees to lower-level chefs as they launch their careers.

Under the institute’s plan, Delgado will double the number of its culinary students and partner with the University of New Orleans to provide them with a shot at a four-year culinary degree at UNO. Through Tulane, the institute also will offer an executive-chef program leading to a master’s degrees for about 100 students a year. Today, top restaurant owners in New Orleans have to send their best chefs out of state for advanced preparation.

Classes at all levels are expected to take place in the ArtWorks structure.

Monty Sullivan, Delgado’s chancellor, said the institute hopes to create an $8 million endowment that will yield $280,000 or so annually for 25 executive-chef scholarships per year.

“What I’m most excited about is that this is a perfect example of New Orleans higher education institutions working together to solve workforce challenges and provide opportunities for people in the community who may not have had those opportunities previously,” Sullivan said.

The institute has said that First NBC Bank is prepared to lend it $6.1 million to buy ArtWorks. It also has lined up $1 million in loan guarantees from the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, the Goldring Family Foundation and The Helis Foundation.

A 2013 law passed by the state Legislature that showers $250 million on Louisiana’s community and technical colleges includes $9 million for Delgado that will go for the project. That money does not become available until July 2015 and requires a $1.3 million private sector match.

The culinary institute’s board includes three restaurateurs — Martin, Brennan and Besh — as well as Edgar Chase III, a former Dillard University business school dean whose family owns Dooky Chase’s Restaurant. Others include George Brower, an expert in tax-credit law who is Brennan’s brother-in-law, and Barbara Mollere, a former manager of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. Carol Ahn Markowitz, a Harvard business school graduate who is a member of the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, will be the executive director.

The Louisiana Artists Guild has been mulling over the bids since the Dec. 3 deadline. During that time, the board got the culinary institute to raise its bid from $5.1 million to $6.2 million. Would-be bidders had to propose a “public purpose” for ArtWorks, given the millions of public dollars already spent on it.

Hines said the culinary institute got the nod because of its ability to close on the deal quickly and tap the kind of money needed to implement its vision.

The other four members of the selection committee are:

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

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

  • Beverly Matheney, a civic activist and former member of the boards of 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.

*Correction: This story originally reported that Launch Pad’s bid was $6.1 million. It also incorrectly reported that the Civil Rights Museum did not offer any money for the building. And it had an incorrect amount for the state loan for the ArtWorks project. (Feb. 5. 2014)

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....