The plan to turn the failed ArtWorks complex into a high-end cooking school took a closer step to reality Thursday when the building’s sale went through.

The New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute paid the city of New Orleans $6.2 million for the abandoned structure, two months after winning the bid to develop the site at the corner of Howard Avenue and Carondelet Street, just off Lee Circle.

“It will be another nice thing in the rebirth of New Orleans,” said William Hines, the managing partner at the Jones Walker law firm who headed the nonprofit board — the Louisiana Artists Guild — that owned the building and chose the culinary arts institute over two other bidders.

The sale means that backers of the culinary arts institute can move forward with their plans.

Those plans include:

  • Moving Delgado Community College’s existing cooking program , which serves  about 400 students getting a two-year degree, to the building and expanding that program.

  • Having the University of New Orleans begin to offer a four-year culinary degree

  • Having Tulane University begin to offer an executive chef master’s degree program.

Officials at the newly formed institute hope it will open in January 2016. They have estimated that the institute will have to spend another $9 million or so to renovate what was a spectacular 93,000-square foot home for artist studios, galleries and the like — before overwhelming debts forced ArtWorks’ closure in 2011.

The culinary art institute’s backers include such prominent restaurateurs as Dickie Brennan, Ti Martin and John Besh.

The culinary institute’s board includes those three restaurateurs, 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 member of the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, will be the executive director.

“We look forward to working with our new partners,” Brower said. “We are rebranding our culinary arts.”

The entire $6.2 million payment goes to the city of New Orleans. The city owes $6.8 million on an original loan of $7.1 million from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“The City will use funds from sale proceeds, consistent with HUD regulations and guidance, to satisfy the City’s debt for the Artworks project,” Landrieu spokesman Tyler Gamble said in an email, when asked how the city planned to use the $6.2 million.

The state of Louisiana was owed $2.25 million but forgave that payment in agreeing to the sale.

Until now, the ArtWorks building has been considered a colossal failure. Taxpayers invested some $18 million to create the ArtWorks complex out of five adjoining buildings.

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....