The Auburn University Board of Trustees gave final approval at its meeting last week to the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center, a "truly transformative project" that will be located at the corner of Thach Avenue and South College Street.
The culinary center “will allow us to … compete not just with the top hospitality, culinary programs in the United States but globally," said Hans van der Reijden, managing director of The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center, who has consulted on the project. "Everything has been built with excellence in mind with every single individual component."
The $95 million, 105-foot-high, 142,000 square-foot facility will feature a number of amenities, both for academic purposes and for the community at-large. Facing South College Street on the bottom floor, the culinary center will feature a 40-seat teaching restaurant called "1856," marking the year Auburn University was established as East Alabama Male College, as well as a Chef in Residence program that will bring in nationally-acclaimed chefs to build a restaurant with the help of students and instructors.
"Every year, a top chef will be associated with the restaurant," said Van der Reijden, who visited other culinary programs around the world to create benchmarks for the Rane Culinary Science Center. "There’s not a single teaching restaurant in the world that has ever done this."
The culinary center also features a number of other learning spaces, including a Wine Appreciation Center, a Distilled Spirits Center and a Brewing Science Laboratory, as well as the Heyday Market, which will have vendor spaces, including two that will serve as food incubators for graduates of the program.
The fourth through sixth floors of the building will contain The Laurel, a 32-room luxury boutique teaching hotel, as well as a spa and rooftop garden.
"The potential impact is enormous. The Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center is going to be one of the most interesting and exciting culinary education centers in America, if not the world,” said Frank Stitt, owner and executive chef of Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham and 2018 James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Restaurant, in a release from the university.
The building's 105-foot height includes rooftop amenities; the center will be 95 feet high at the parapet. While the city's zoning ordinance caps the height limit in the Urban Core at 75 feet, university property doesn't fall under the umbrella of municipal codes.
A ground-breaking ceremony is planned for April, with construction starting soon after. Auburn residents should expect to be impacted by extensive utility and sewer work on South College and Thach over the summer.
"It’s going to be a very disruptive summer up on that corner,” said Dan King, associate vice president for Facilities, about the corner of Thach and South College. “That has to be done for us to put the building on top of it."
Construction is projected to last two years.
"It's absolutely transformative for the university, the city and the region," said trustee Raymond Harbert after viewing a presentation on the project during the BOT's workshop.
Harbert's sentiment was echoed by other trustees at the meeting.
"It makes you want to come to Auburn for an experience, not just because you have to for a ball game or whatever," said trustee Elizabeth Huntley, of the combined impact of the Rane Culinary Science Center and the Gogue Performing Arts Center, which expected to be completed in the summer. "It totally changes the trajectory for me."
Editor note: This article was edited to correct an error about the university and its relation to municipal code.