Inner West Independent

New bid to shake up Italian Forum sale

The Italian Forum Cultural Centre

The controversial sale of the Italian Forum Cultural Centre may not go ahead after all, according to the centre’s administrators SV Partners.

When previous owners Italian Forum Limited (IFL) went into voluntary receivership in late 2013, SV Partners was appointed to take over administration of the property. SV Partners has been in conflict with Leichhardt Council over the terms of the sale ever since.

Leichhardt Council, headed by Mayor Darcy Byrne, has backed a bid from local Italian community group Co.As.It, while the business community and SV Partners have decried this decision for its lack of financial viability.

During the conflict, SV Partners received three bids for the purchase of the Cultural Centre – one from Co.As.It, one from the Glorious Gospel Church (GGC) and one from the Australian Chamber of Music. The highest bidder was the Glorious Gospel Church, however council determined Co.As.It to be more suitable and has decisive power based on its being the largest creditor.

This week, however, SV Partners told City Hub they were considering a fourth option.

SV Partners said they were considering an offer from the Glorious Gospel Church to bail out Italian Forum Limited. This bail out option would mean the centre would not be delcared bankrupt and its assets liquidated and sold; instead, the GGC would provide the money to allow IFL to continue operating the centre as it was previously.

This bail out would allow GGC some executive power over the centre without it being officially transferred from the hands of IFL.

A source who preferred not to be named told City Hub he believed an agreement had already been signed to this effect.

According to an unnamed source, the option of a financial backer bailing out IFL was offered to potential buyers originally, but no buyers wanted to go down this path and instead began negotiating a sale. It seems now GGC has had a change of heart and is taking up the offer to bail out IFL.

“There is a fourth proposal on the table and that is to re-capitalise the Forum through the Glorious Gospel Church who are backed up by the Bathurst Baptist Financial Services,” said Stephen Hathway, executive director of SV Partners.

“Until the current court case is heard, we cannot act on any of these proposals. We hope that common sense will prevail with council and they will realise the best option is to re-capitalise.

This option would see the confirmation of a contentious 10-year lease signed between SV Partners and the Actors Centre Australia. The lease was signed in 2013 but was declared void, an issue that is currently being addressed in court.

If the IFL is bailed out, the ACA will retain their tenancy.

ACA director Dean Carey said he supported the option to re-capitalise the IFL.

“Bailing out the IFL is a very exciting proposition for a number of reasons.”

“As a not-for-profit organization, IFL can attract funding to underwrite public use of the venue, which a private organisation might not be able to do.”

“This is a fantastic outcome for the future of the Forum”.

Mr Carey is confident the ACA will benefit from the GGC bail out.

“We have a terrific partnership with the GGC,” Mr Carey said.

“With us there managing the building and ensuring it fulfills its duty and the GGC bailing out the IFL, it feels like a win-win.”

The bail out would, however, exclude the possibility of the centre being managed by Co.As.It.

Leichhardt Mayor Darcy Byrne remains adamant the centre should be sold to Co.As.It.

“The unified position of council is that Co.As.It will be a terrific purchaser for the centre.”

“We want to make sure that a cultural centre that was built in public money and the blood sweat and tears of local volunteers remains in the hands of a not-fot-profit organisation and remains a home for the Italian community on Norton Street,” Mayor Byrne said.

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