Bernard Arnault, the billionaire chief executive of LVMH and France’s wealthiest man, has signed an agreement with the Fondation Notre Dame finalising a donation of €200m towards the restoration of the fire-ravaged cathedral in Paris.
Fellow French luxury goods tycoon François Pinault, the founder of Kering, and his son, François-Henri Pinault, the group’s chief executive, are due to sign a deal with the Catholic charity next Monday to donate €100m.
The payments from Arnault and Pinault should extend over several years, in line with restoration needs. As major patrons, the two billionaires will be part of the committee monitoring the restoration project, set up by the French culture minister Franck Riester.
Michel Aupetit, the archbishop of Paris and president of the Fondation Notre Dame, has hailed Arnault and Pinault for their philanthropy. “These contributions are obviously important for this building project, perhaps [the restoration] of the century,” he said in a statement, expressing his “keen and profound gratitude to these great entrepreneurs, as well as to the multitude of other donors”.
Arnault had pledged €200m in the immediate aftermath of the fire that blazed through Notre Dame on 15 April. Amid speculation that his family holding company may benefit from tax breaks, he told LVMH shareholders in April that the firm was ineligible, having reached its limit after building the Louis Vuitton Foundation. France’s court of auditors reported last November that the group benefited from €518m in tax relief for the €790m museum project, under the 60% deductions offered by the 2003 Aillagon law.
Pinault’s holding company Artemis also announced in April that it would not seek tax breaks on its €100m pledge towards the reconstruction of Notre Dame.
The Fondation Notre Dame has received €380m in donations and pledges to date, including €36m from 46,000 individuals, 60 companies and 29 French and foreign public bodies, as well as the contributions from Arnault and Pinault. The Ile-de-France region, which includes Paris, will sign an agreement to donate €10m in October.
The Fondation Notre Dame is one of four bodies designated by the French government to collect donations for the cathedral, alongside the Centre des Monuments Nationaux, the Fondation du Patrimoine and the Fondation de France.
The budget for the current phase of consolidating the Medieval cathedral is estimated at €85m. By mid-October, the Fondation Notre Dame will have transferred €31m to the French culture ministry, including €20m from the major patrons, to foot the bill.
The final cost estimate for the restoration will not be known until next spring, as nine more months are needed to secure the building and complete a full assessment of the damage.