In its nearly 40-year history, the glass and steel structure on St. Charles Avenue built from pieces of the Eiffel Tower in Paris has been home to an upscale restaurant, trendy nightclubs and an event space.
Now, the founder and former CEO of the Idea Village has plans to redevelop the venue, and is using NFTs, the once high-flying digital assets that have come back to earth amid last year’s cryptocurrency crash, to do it.
Tim Williamson, who built The Idea Village into the city’s premier promoter of early-stage companies, said the event space most recently known as Eiffel Society is currently being turned into what he describes as a “place-based NFT community.”
Think of it as a multipurpose gathering point for local artists, creative types and anyone who’s interested in blockchains, NFTs or other quickly-developing technologies. Williamson and his partners in the venture, NieuxCo, are currently leasing the building from its owners, the Landis family. They have renamed it The Nieux and are planning to turn it into a campus for the The Nieux Society, which was created last fall with buy in from 504 founding members and opens to a wider membership this spring.
As currently envisioned, The Nieux will be open and airy, with bars, food vendors and gathering spaces. Access will be gated, meaning it will be open only to those who join The Nieux Society, which will cost somewhere around $1600, or 1e, the unit of cryptocurrency, ethereum, that is used to buy and sell NFTs.
To help New Orleanians wrap their heads around the concept, NiexuCo is launching a pilot of sorts this week. For about $160, or 0.1 ethereum, members of the public can purchase the Mardi Gras NFT and get access to the venue — with bars, bathrooms and a temporary food vendor — during Mardi Gras.
Williamson believes using something as simple and relatable as access to a beer and a bathroom on the parade route at Mardi Gras is an effective way to introduce New Orleans to the concept of NFTs in general and to The Nieux Society more specifically.
“This is a way to test the waters,” said Williamson, who served as President of NOLA Media Group before it was purchased by Dathel and John Georges. “In addition to having a home base for Mardi Gras, it will showcase the innovation happening in New Orleans. It will show people what types of activities we will have at the campus as we being to build it out.”
Crypto and cocktails
Williamson and his partners in NieuxCo — including developer Zach Kupperman, tech entrepreneur Patrick Comer and artist Lindsey Roussel — want to help New Orleans content creators learn about the opportunities that NFTs, short for non-fungible tokens, and other Web3 technologies will enable.
At its simplest, an NFT represents something — like a piece of artwork —that is unique and one-of-a kind. It’s made from complex computer code and it’s paid for in cryptocurrency. Blockchain technology is the secure digital ledger system that makes it all possible.
But NFTs can also be used as access tokens, like tickets or membership cards.
Having a membership-based organization with a physical campus at The Nieux will help marry the digital, virtual marketplace with tangible creations and their creators, Roussel and Williamson believe.
Already, they are using The Nieux, which they began leasing in 2021, to hold workshops and monthly meetups called Crypto and Cocktails.
Williamson, who helped promote some of New Orleans’ most successful tech entrepreneurs through The Idea Village, says the creators of New Orleans’ iconic culture need to be able to capitalize on new ways of monetizing their content.
“We believe there are many opportunities with Web3 to strengthen communities and also opportunities for creators to own their own content,” Williamson said.
Breaking the cycle
Already, The Nieux Society has attracted 504 founding members. In March, Williamson is opening membership up to a broader audience with a goal of 1,500 total members.
Before that, however, he’s launching the Mardi Gras NFT. It is aimed in part at showcasing the former Eiffel Society building, which has been the site of several failed ventures in its 37-year history.
The NieuxCo partners believe they can break the cycle. Currently, they have a long-term lease on the site and have invested in sprucing up the venue, which was shuttered during COVID and, prior to that, had been used as an event space.
If all goes well, the plan is to buy the building and begin an intensive renovation that would include the buildout of a ground floor speakeasy, outdoor bar and lounge with space for a food truck and a trellis under the ramp.
There’s also a suite that members could book for overnight stays.
“At the very least, it’s a real estate redevelopment project,” Williamson said. “But it’s also about educating a community to connect around a shared vision. We are educating the city about Web3, launching projects and having a place to show it off.”