The Springs Preserve will trade a celebrity chef for some chefs in training as it looks to cut costs and draw more visitors.
The Culinary Academy of Las Vegas will take over catering and cafe operations for the 180-acre museum and cultural attraction on Oct. 3.
The preserve’s eco-friendly restaurant is run by Wolfgang Puck, whose food-world fame was expected to attract people to the Las Vegas Valley Water District’s $235 million gamble at U.S. Highway 95 and Valley View Boulevard. Instead, the cafe has struggled while Puck’s company continued to draw a controversial management fee of $346,500 a year.
The Culinary Academy of Las Vegas will draw no such fee.
The Clark County Commission, which serves as the water district’s board of directors, approved a five-year contract with the academy on Tuesday.
Under the terms of the deal, the academy will pay at least $84,000 a year for the exclusive right to cater events at the preserve and run the second-floor cafe, which offers a sweeping view of downtown and the Strip.
The new agreement drew a favorable reaction from commissioners, several of whom were critical of the district’s deal with Wolfgang Puck.
Water district spokesman J.C. Davis said Wolfgang Puck was one of only three concessionaires to bid on the contract when it was originally offered four years ago.
It was hoped at the time that the Wolfgang Puck name "was going to draw people to the preserve as a destination," Davis said. "You have to remember, this was the pre-crash economy."
This time around, the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas submitted the lowest of four bids, including one from the Wolfgang Puck restaurant group.
Based on sample menus provided by the academy, the cafe will continue to offer gourmet fare at somewhat lower prices.
"It looks like it’s going to be a good fit," Davis said.
Since the water district opened the Springs Preserve in June 2007, the collection of interactive exhibits, green buildings and desert plants has absorbed more than $30 million in subsidies.
On top of that, the valley’s largest water utility will spend the next 25 to 30 years paying back the roughly $160 million it borrowed for construction of the $235 million facility.
The district’s budget for the coming year calls for $6.4 million to operate the preserve. The attraction required closer to $11 million in funding in each of its first two years of operation.
The preserve laid off 11 people, roughly 17 percent of its total staff, in late 2009.
Attendance has increased each year the Springs Preserve has been open but still has not reached projections made before its opening.
Contact reporter Henry Brean at email@example.com or 702-383-0350.