After more than a year of uncertainty and bitter disputes the Italian Forum on Norton Street has been sold to the Italian cultural organisation Co. As. It.
The contracts were exchanged on Friday (November 28) and the organisation paid $2.8 million for the site.
The Italian population in Leichhardt has drastically reduced and the Forum has been struggling to fill the Piazza with people for some years.
The previous owners, The Italian Forum Limited went into voluntary administration in August 2013.
The General Manager of Co. As. It, Thomas Camporeale, called the sale “a great victory for the community”.
“It was a long, protracted battle, so we’re happy to see that it’s finally over,” he said.
“This is the best outcome for the community. Not just the Italian community, but the broader community as well.”
“We’d like to see increased activity in the piazza through some fiestas, some markets, some outdoor events and exhibitions. Internally we’d like to see some Italian language and cooking classes for everyone.”
Stephen Hathaway of SV Partners who were in charge of the site, also said it was a relief to finally have the issues resolved and the property sold, but said it was a long and frustrating process.
“Leichhardt Council and particularly the previous Mayor, Darcy Byrne, had a very strong opinion that the forum should have only been sold to this one Italian group. He took it upon himself to see that Co. As. It would be the only buyers considered,” he said.
There were two other groups bidding for the site and initially their offers were much higher than that of Co. As. It.
“When there’s one group who know they’re the favored buyers, of course they’re not going to offer the highest bid,” Mr Hathaway said.
Co. As. It initially had the lowest offer of three potential buyers at $2.4 million. The market price set for the Forum was $2.8 million. The Glorious Gospel Church (GGS) and the Australian Academy of Music and Performing Arts had already at least matched this market price.
Leichhardt Council gave SV Partners a deadline of June 2, 2014 to confirm a sale to Co.As.It and indicated if SV Partners do not meet this deadline, council would liquidate the property and assign a new administrating body.
SV Partners sought an injunction to stop council from doing so, which was granted by Supreme Court of NSW.
Mr Hathaway said that his role was to see that the creditors were repaid in full while respecting the cultural mandate of the site and said that he needed market price to achieve this.
GGS’s final offer was a conditional $3.2 million bid.
Leichhardt council agreed to reduce their legal costs attached to their mortgage to compensate for Co. As. It’s lower offer.
Mayor of Leichhardt, Rochelle Porteous said Co. As. It would be a good fit for the Forum.
“Being a local, not for profit organisation will ensure that the Italian Forum Cultural Centre continues to serve both the Italian-Australian community and the wider Sydney community,” she said.
The Actors Centre Australia (ACA) who had been fighting to stay on the site are understood by City Hub to be in negotiations with the new owners about a two year extension of their lease.
“We’d be more than happy to facilitate them,” Mr Campreale said.
ACA did not wish to comment on the developments.