The failed ArtWorks building, a side project of the Arts Council of New Orleans, has experienced a mainly negative buzz surrounding the project ever since its conception in the 1990s.
Initial construction of the 93,000 square foot building off Lee Circle began in 2003, but weather and financial delays held off opening until a brief period from 2008 to 2009. Then, in 2011, the board of directors dissolved leaving the future of the building once again up in the air.
After losing millions since the start, the buzz has turned into more of a whirlwind after the building was put up for sale a few months back.
“There isn’t, in fact, really an owner,” said Kim Cook, Arts Council of New Orleans President and CEO back in August. But because of the unique circumstances and a clause in the ArtWorks’ founding documents, a five-member board has been formed to decide on the future of the building.
Fresh plans from a number of bidders will breathe life back into the space. The building will be sold to the highest qualified bidder who will maintain the arts-related, public purpose use of the space, a requirement set after ArtWorks received $7 million from the state to use for a public project.
Aimee Quirk, Advisor to Mayor Landrieu, said the total investment from all parties in the building is roughly $25 million.
“We’re open to a really strong use that will put it back into commerce,” Quirk said. “We want to see it back in commerce. That’s first and foremost. But we also desire to be repaid our loan.”
The decision could be vetoed by the city if the selected bid yields less than $2.5 million owed to the state and/or $6.8 million to the city.
“There will be a preference to an arts use over pure commercial,” said Walker Hines, Managing Partner of Jones Walker. “It won’t necessarily go to the highest price — it will be a combination of price and use.”
Launch Pad Co-founder Chris Schultz created a Neighborland campaign, urging neighbors to support the plan to transform the building into a world-class arts and entrepreneurship hub. He explained, “New Orleans is at its core a cultural mecca – and this project is designed to inspire the next generation of creative leaders in all areas – art, design, fashion, culinary – we can together build a vibrant community that fosters the connections between art and entrepreneurship and paints a vivid picture for visitors of how the city is fostering that creativity and investing in its talent.”
Schultz and other Launch Pad Co-founders, Will Donaldson and Barre Tanguis, intend to support the original spirit of the ArtWorks building. Their plans for a creative hub that includes coworking space, maker space, artist studios, public presentation of arts, large-scale event space and a restaurant could come to life as early as August.
If the Launch Pad bid is accepted, the building would be home to a second Launch Pad, meaning the current workspace in the Intellectual Property Building would remain open.
Another known bidder for the building is restaurant owner Dickie Brennan, who wants to transform the space, in partnership with restaurateur Ti Martin and Delgado Community College, into a culinary arts institute. Brennan’s brother-in-law, George Brower, is also rumored to be involved in the effort.
The deadline for submissions is December 3rd. In a quick turnaround, bidders expect to hear the final decision by December 11th.