Riverlea buys theatre land

By Ged Cann

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Riverlea chairwoman Lois Livingston speaking in the public forum before Hamilton City Council's decision on the sale of Riverlea Theatre's land.
Riverlea chairwoman Lois Livingston speaking in the public forum before Hamilton City Council's decision on the sale of Riverlea Theatre's land.

Hamilton City Council's finance committee has agreed to sell the land on which Riverlea Theatre sits to the theatre trust for $350,000 - a reduction from the previously agreed sale price of $460,000.

Riverlea chairwoman Lois Livingston said she was ecstatic, but exhausted.

"I'm glad they finally saw sense. I think it was because we were able to talk to them today. We haven't been able to do that for various reasons," she said.

"The Mayor swung it for us today. I have to thank Julie for what she had to say," Ms Livingston said.

The decision to sell the one hectare plot was made in September 2014. There was a further period of negotiation, resulting in a sale and purchase agreement which gave the theatre nine months to raise money equal to the market value of the land. The settlement was scheduled for July 1.

Council strategic property unit manager Nicolas Wells said Riverlea had come back with a request for the sale to be reduced by $110,000.

"The valuation was established in 2014, so it's now 19 months out of date. I've sought valuation advice and there has been a significant movement in the value of the land. That has meant the $460,000 for the site with the lease in place has increased to $535,000," he said.

Without the encumbrance of the attached lease the land was estimated to be worth a little over $1 million.

"Effectively they are getting a balance sheet which shows an asset worth twice the amount they paid for it," he said.

The staff recommendation had been to extend the deadline for the sale but retain the price tag of $460,000.

"The reason I make that recommendation is two-fold. Firstly I think we have a policy we need to sell Council property at valuation," Mr Wells said.

"The second thing is I think Riverlea are the only parties in this matter who are able to benefit directly from liberating half a million dollars worth of asset value.

"We can't do it as Council, the open market can't do it while the lease is in place. Only Riverlea can do it," he said.

If the agreement to sell at the reduced price had not been reached and Council had demanded the full amount Mrs Livingston said the theatre may have had to close for up to a year to raise the funds for its operation.

"We would have had to get rid of our theatre manager, we would have had to cut our staff, we would have had to go back to only running volunteer shows.

"We certainly would not have been able to run our theatre school," she said.

An alternative proposal was put forward by councillors Andrew King and Karina Green to divide the land, selling the grounds of the theatre and carpark to Riverlea, while retaining the adjacent fallow land which made up the plot.

Councillor Garry Mallett described it as an "elegant solution" which reduced the purchase price while ensuring the ratepayer did not "take one in the back pocket".

Mrs Livingston rejected this proposal on the basis that the Theatre had plans to develop on the land.

"That area has a range of opportunities and we have a 10-year-plan to expand the whole theatre, make it a bit bigger, new stage area, new areas for sets and all that kind of stuff," she said.

She said the performing arts school was currently run in the theatre and the adjacent piece of land could house a building for this.

"Ultimately we could decide to sell it to pay for some of the upgrades, but we can't do that in the short term," she said.

The decision was expected to be ratified at yesterday's full council meeting.

"We're going to have a good party once the deal's done," she said.

The vote was carried eight votes for and three against, with councillors Green, Mallett and King voting against.

- Hamilton News

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