Inner West Independent

Battle to salvage Cultural Centre deal

ACA president Dean Carey at the Cultural Centre with his students. Photo: Chris Peken

EXCLUSIVE

Leichhardt Council is fighting to save a deal that would see the Italian Forum Cultural Centre sold to Italian community group Co. As. It. and the facility permanently leased to the Actors Centre Australia.

A council media release in January claiming “a future has been secured” for the insolvent cultural centre now appears to have been premature, with the parties still attempting to negotiate an outcome that the administrator, SV Partners, believes is impossible.

The ACA runs an acting school during the day and stages productions at night, while Co. As. It. wants to use the space for its own purposes, including a day care centre for the elderly.

In an exclusive interview with the Inner West Independent, ACA president Dean Carey was confident that a mutually satisfactory outcome could be reached. On the key concern of sharing the space, ACA says it has provided a full-year schedule of its activities and is waiting to see if Co. As. It. can work around that. Mr Carey said both sides had given some ground and examined how the office space could be divided and time-shared.

“We know that the building has to remain flexible,” Mr Carey said.

The other main point of contention is rent. Mr Carey said the initial Co. As. It. expectation of $500,000 a year was well beyond the reach of ACA.

“No arts company could afford, obviously, that sort of cost, unless they were seriously subsidised by the federal government or the state government,” he said.

It is understood that while Leichhardt Council is pushing for Co. As. It. to retain the site, that may no longer end up being the final outcome.

Stephen Hathway, executive director of SV Partners, said higher bids for the site are still being considered, including a new offer from a religious group who would only need to utilise the building on Sundays.

“We believe that the value of this place is around $2.5 million, and the Co. As. It. offer is at $2.2 million,” Mr Hathway said.

“I’m charged with the responsibility of trying to get the highest price and trying to get [the creditors] paid in full.”

Contrary to what was advised in Leichhardt Council’s initial statement, $2.2 million would not see all creditors paid out.

Mayor Darcy Byrne said it is still council’s “preference” for Co. As. It. to purchase the site and lease it to ACA, and that council is “working very hard to facilitate negotiations”.

Asked if a decision was locked in should those negotiations fail, Cr Byrne said: “No”.

Novati Constructions, which helped build the cultural centre, is understood to still have a bid on the table, but did not return calls for comment.

When the Independent visited the Italian Forum on Monday, residents were keen to see the Actors Centre remain on in the venue. Resident Vicki Barry, who moved to the Forum in 1999 when the cultural centre first opened, said the ACA had been a “very positive thing” so far.

“We’re hoping the youth and the enthusiasm that these young people seem to have can only do good for the place,” she said.

“Any life that can be injected into it is just fantastic. We’ve never really seen the cultural centre put to any great purpose, so it’s been a colossal waste.”

The Actors Centre moved into the Forum in mid-January and will offer two new part-time courses in March. Mr Carey said wider community usage of the facility remains extremely important.

“The opportunity here is immense, and our vision and commitment is to reactivate the piazza…and to engage special artists and events at the cultural centre right across each year,” he said.

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