The future of the Italian Forum Cultural Centre has been plunged back into uncertainty after the leading bid collapsed and Leichhardt Council approved a sale to Italian cultural organisation Co. As. It.
Council intends for Co. As. It. to share the facility with the Actors Centre Australia, which has already moved into the building after signing a long-term lease with the administrator, SV Partners.
At an extraordinary meeting of council on Tuesday, general manager Peter Head said council had received legal advice indicating that lease was invalid because it had not been approved by the mortgagees.
There are now significant doubts about whether Co. As. It. and ACA can share the space. Dean Carey, creative and founding director of ACA, told the Inner West Independent it would be “very difficult”.
“The discussions so far suggest there could be some major difficulties in on-site co-tenancy of the facility,” he said.
“It seems [Co. As. It.] want an on-site presence for their offices. There are only four rooms in the forum.”
Mr Carey said he had conflicting legal advice stating that the lease ACA entered into with the administrator is legally valid.
“We’re completely astounded that the council has offered no grounds why they will not sign consent to the lease.”
All three parties will enter negotiations on Thursday and Mayor Darcy Byrne was confident they would be fruitful.
“Through hard fought negotiation we have delivered a deal that would keep the Italian community here forever,” he said.
“This deal would see all creditors paid out, two highly regarded cultural organisations sharing the Cultural Centre, and give the people of Sydney a reason to come back to Norton Street.”
Co. As. It. general manager Thomas Camporeale told the council meeting he was prepared to enter discussions with ACA “in good faith” and was “quietly confident” an agreement could be reached.
Gregory May of May Real Estate, who is advising SV Partners on the sale, was less optimistic. Addressing the council meeting on Tuesday, he said it was his understanding that “it is not practical for ACA and Co. As. It. to share”.
Mr May and SV Partners originally recommended selling IFL to childcare provider Tick Tock Services, but that collapsed only hours before the council meeting when the firm advised it could not raise the finance.
There are also concerns about the transparency and competency of the administration process. At the meeting, Mr May announced that a third contender, described only as “another Italian family”, had made an offer on IFL of $2.7 million.
Asked by Cr Byrne to confirm that bid, Leichhardt Council’s general manager, Peter Head, said: “We haven’t got any details about this Italian family at all.”
That prompted a fierce response from the mayor.
“SV Partners has now accrued several hundred thousand dollars in fees from this process,” Cr Byrne told Mr May.
“Are you telling me that having conducted several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of work, that you want us to take a bid seriously which was submitted verbally on the last day before council was going to meet…without anything being put in writing, from a mystery bidder?”
Residents and shopkeepers in the gallery strongly supported ACA’s continued tenancy. Isabelle Bishop, who moved into the Italian Forum in 1999, said she hoped there was a way both groups could be accommodated.
“I’m here to support the Actors Centre, but I also want to pay my respects to the Co. As. It. group of people,” she said.
“We tell our children and our grandchildren to share. Because we’re grownups and we’re mature, maybe we can share this beautiful facility.”