Restaurant owners, start-up experts bid on Louisiana Artworks building


Posted on December 2, 2013 at 7:35 PM

Updated Monday, Dec 2 at 7:41 PM

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
Email: | Twitter: @pmurphywwl

NEW ORLEANS -- The old Bradford's Furniture Building at the corner of Howard Avenue and Carondelet Street in the Warehouse District of New Orleans sits in limbo, not far from Lee Circle.

The Arts Council of Louisiana sank $25 million in donations and government grants into the building to turn it into a giant artist studio called Louisiana Artworks. It opened briefly in 2008, then closed less than a year later.

But, there are now high hopes the property could soon get a new lease on life. Local restaurateur Ti Martin is leading up a group of culinary entrepreneurs that submitted a bid to buy the building.

"We're here because we see an opportunity," said Martin. "An opportunity to honor the original mission of the ArtWorks building, of investing in our cultural assets to strengthen the cultural fabric of New Orleans."

Martin's group wants to develop the building into NOCHI, the New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute. The institute also has the backing of some of the top chefs in the city.

Chef Tory McPhail from Commander's Palace said a top-notch culinary institute is needed to keep up with the demand for skilled kitchen and other restaurant professionals.

"Since (Hurricane Katrina), we've gotten somewhere north of 400 brand new restaurants," said McPhail. "So, there is a huge need for good, talented staff and great cooks and culinarians."

Chef John Besh said education is key to preserving Cajun and Creole Cuisine.

"Passing it on to the next generation and having an institution founded, specifically for that, is just crucial," said Besh.

The University of New Orleans, Tulane University and Delgado Community College are partners in the venture.

If NOCHI is the winning bidder, Martin said she hopes the school would be up and running by spring 2016.

Another group bidding on the Louisiana Artworks building claims it's prepared to put the property back into commerce by next summer.

The start-up gurus at the New Orleans-based Launch Pad and their financial backers also have their eyes on the prime piece of real estate. They would turn it into collaborative workspace for artists, including film makers and fashion designers.

Launch Pad says it's lined up enough tenants to fill about 60 percent of the 93,000 square feet of space in the building.

"We are driven to build the entrepreneurship and start-up scene here in New Orleans, and the purpose of ArtWorks is to build the creative economy, help artists build careers, products and businesses here in New Orleans," said Launch Pad co-founder Chris Schultz.

Launch Pad would buy the buildings with private money.

"The taxpayers have put enough into this building," said Schultz. "There's a lot of private donations, taxpayer money that's been put into this building. It's time to stop that and it's time to actually begin using the building, putting the building into use."

Bids on the Artworks building are due Tuesday.

While a private board would pick the winning bid, the city has the final say. Right now, the city is paying $50,000 a month to cover a $7 million loan on the building. The winning bid could be announced as early as next week.