The board of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center has completed buying the former ArtWorks building near Lee Circle from the New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute for $8 million and has signed an agreement to have the nonprofit institute operate a $32 million culinary and hospitality training center there.NOCHI is a non-profit formed by Commander's Palace owner Ti Martin and backed by several high profile restaurant tycoons including John Besh. Its ostensible purpose is "workforce development" for the hospitality industry. What this means, in practice, is the restaurateurs will run certification programs for employment in their own businesses. Remember those $13 an hour line cooks, Sidney Torres talked about yesterday? NOCHI wants to charge them an entry fee for the privilege of performing this work in the amount of whatever tuition their state subsidized building ends up costing.
In addition to the purchase price, the Convention Center said Monday that the plan calls for another $4 million to go toward improvements to the building, which will reopen in 2018 with two culinary labs, two baking and pastry labs, a restaurant lab, a wine and spirits lab, a large event center including a banquet kitchen, a café open to the public and traditional classroom and office spaces.
As for the restaurateurs themselves, their investment is already covered. Besh and Martin bought the ArtWorks building a few years back for $6.2 million. So, already, they are coming out ahead on the real estate investment. They're also planning to pull down state and federal tax credits to finance renovations. In 2015, the plan involved a partnership with Delgado Community College's Culinary Center, although they are not currently listed as a partner on NOCHI's website.
The governor and the mayor both spoke highly of this latest "public-private partnership" scheme because of course they would. The model is well in keeping with the "volunteer entrepreneurism" we described back when everyone was tsk-tsking at Irvin Mayfield for not quite pulling it off without drawing suspicion. The model itself is golden, though. It's how our aristocrats maintain themselves. If you're the right sort of person in the right sort of club, such opportunities are always available for you in New Orleans.