Chef School at Horse Center Surprises Park Officials : Recreation: City officials question claims of financial hardship at the equestrian facility.
Two Los Angeles City Council members were dismayed to learn Monday that parks officials were unaware until recently of plans by the concessionaire of the city-owned Los Angeles Equestrian Center to allow operation of a culinary school.
“That worries me that they don’t know anything about it,” said Councilman Joel Wachs, chairman of the council’s Arts, Health and Humanities Committee, which is considering a request to reduce the rent the city charges concessionaire LAEC Inc.
Wachs has been skeptical of claims of financial hardship used to justify the proposed rent cut. Both Wachs and Councilwoman Rita Walters, the council committee’s second member, have sharply questioned whether the revised rental agreement gives LAEC too much of a financial break.
LAEC and parks officials are proposing that LAEC pay a flat rent of $350,000 for the first five years of its 50-year contract with the city, instead of 5.5% of its gross receipts, as the existing agreement requires.
With tuition income, the culinary school stands to be a “big bonanza” financially for LAEC, Wachs said.
Students will pay $13,500 tuition to attend 18 months of instruction at the newly formed Los Angeles International Culinary Institute and serve as apprentices at two restaurants due to open soon at the equestrian center, school President Raimund Hofmeister has said. He said 48 students have enrolled in classes scheduled to begin next month.
J. Stanley Sanders, president of the Recreation and Parks Commission, told Wachs’ committee Monday that he only recently learned about the school. Sanders said the school is a sign that the “onerous” terms of the existing agreement are forcing LAEC to seek “extra money from non-equestrian activities.”
“If I didn’t see that, I might share your concern that perhaps the agreement was too good to the concessionaire,” Sanders said.
Last May 20, the institute won Parks Commission approval to operate the restaurants at the equestrian center as a subtenant of LAEC.
Sanders, the top parks official involved in negotiating the proposed new rental, and two other parks commissioners voted to approve the sublease. At the time, a one-page staff report portrayed the institute only as the proposed operator of a restaurant, not as a tuition-charging school as well.
Park officials have said the existing rental terms need to be more lenient so that they do not drive the concessionaire out of business, as was the case with the prior operator.
The committee agreed to resume consideration of the issue at its Aug. 19 meeting, when the city hopes to have an audited financial statement in hand for the first year of LAEC’s operations.
Shirley Andrews, a city parks official, said she ordered LAEC last week to halt plans to operate the culinary school because the project needs commission approval. The reply she got, Andrews said, was that LAEC received city approval on May 20, a view with which she disagrees.
Andrews said her major concern is whether the school is appropriate for the site. “I’m not sure we can do this without public hearings,” she said. “We’ve always assured the community that this would be used for equestrian activities. If they’re charging $13,000 tuition, it’s more like a college.”
Such an operation, she added, might also conflict with the environmental clearances the city had to get for the center, which included no mention of a school.
“I don’t know why the city is making such a big fuss about the school,” Hofmeister said. “We’re not interfering with the horses.” He would not disclose the terms of the school’s sublease and the information was not available from the city Monday.
The chef said he has been working since June to convert a 10,000-square-foot area once occupied by another restaurant at the equestrian center to accommodate two restaurants. One will be a bar and grill intended to appeal to people who board their horses at the center and the other an “upscale” restaurant designed to attract a wider clientele.
Hofmeister is a former executive chef with the Westin hotel chain. Partners in the school venture include comedian Buddy Hackett’s wife and food purveyor S.E. Rykoff.
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