Benalla Ensign

Petition calls for cinema delay

- By Simon Ruppert

A petition asking for Benalla’s lakeside cinema and cafe project to be suspended pending further consultati­on was presented to council last Wednesday.

A community group presented the petition at Benalla Rural City Council’s meeting on September 29, which included 17 physical signatures and some 225 who signed an online petition.

Ultimately Council voted to note the petition, meaning that at this stage the project will continue.

Two residents addressed the meeting with regards to the petition via Zoom, with a third having their submission ready by council chief executive officer Dom Testoni.

These were not the only community voices heard at the meeting with several questions on the proposed cinema and cafe developmen­t submitted as public questions.

These were addressed at the start of the meeting with Mr Testoni, and general manager (corporate) Robert Barber providing responses.

Q: What is the total cost of the Visitor Informatio­n Centre project so far?

A: The total cost so far, excluding salaries and overheads, is $107, 564.

Q: Can the payback period of the programs total cost, as per the feasibilit­y study, be shared with residents before any further work on the project continues?

A: The projected savings over the current operating cost of BPACC is in the order of about $170,000 per year.

Based on a $2 million spend it’s about an 11-year payback.

Q: At the Planning and Developmen­t meeting held on June 16 (the Visitor Informatio­n Centre) budget was stated as $1.52 million dollars. How did this increase to $2.014 million dollars?

A: The original budget was $1.52 million when council adopted it in June 2020. When we received additional grants from the Australian and Victorian government­s later that year we increased the budget to recognise the additional work, predominan­tly around additional toilet work and additional work around retaining storage on the site.

Q: The minutes from that meeting... mentions a state government grant of $500,000. However, now another $375,000 from a $2.5 million grant has been allocated to the proposed cinema and café project. Does this mean the other 16 projects including public toilets under the library (and) the aboriginal gardens boardwalk will be compromise­d?

A: No they won’t, and many of those projects have been completed. The public toilets in particular were completed late last year. The Aboriginal Gardens work is almost complete. They have not been compromise­d. If anything we’ve undertaken additional work at the Aboriginal gardens to realise the full vision of the community committee that actually oversaw that project for us.

Following those questions Councillor Punarji Hewa Gunaratne requested an opportunit­y to speak.

“The $170,000 saving , I would like to see a business case… for it,” Cr Gunaratne said.

“How many tickets (do) we have to sell. What’s the price of the ticket? And what’s the confidence of that profitabil­ity?”

Mr Testoni said these figures were presented to councillor­s months ago.

“The ticket price for the model we have put together has been based on an adult price of $16.50, a child price of $11.50,” Mr Testoni said.

“When we’re looking at the potential returns to the community we talk about the actual operations of BPACC and the losses that BPACC is experienci­ng...

“The model (indicates) that when we exit BPACC, a lot of the costs associated with running BPACC, whether that be for venue hire, or theatre… don’t exist any more.

“Inside this model... we’ve got an allocation of some $30,000 to continue to contribute to theatre in Benalla.

“So that return that we talk about to the council and community is over and above the current operations of BPACC...

“There’s theatre, there’s venue hire, there’s the cinema. So when we bring the cinema operation to the new facility — this multi-purpose facility — we also take into considerat­ion the commercial lease on the café space.

“The council does not intend to operate a café. That will be offered as a commercial arrangemen­t. We’ve mentioned this before on many occasions.

“Council has modelled to continue to operate the cinema, and not engage a third-party consultant to look at operating the cinema...

“You have to look at BPACC as an entity... that’s being used for theatre, for venue hire and the cinema.

“All we’re doing is retaining the operation of the cinema and looking to deliver that in a purpose-built facility... in the central CBD.

“We’re not talking about delivering a new service. What we’re looking to do is actually maximise what is a very valued service to the community.

"The cinema alone was not losing $200,000 to 300,000 per year.

“That is actually misleading and it’s not fair to the community to be told that the cinema was losing $200,000 to 300,000 per year, that is entirely incorrect, and as a council we never said that.

“We said (with) BPACC as an entity in its current operation, the losses were increasing.

“Hence the reason why we’re quite confident that if the cinema was operating as a commercial cinema run by the council, we’re quite confident there will be a significan­t return to this community, that we can reinvest in other facilities.”

That response by Mr Testoni rendered some of the queries raised when the petition was tabled moot.

Other questions raised at that point included:

Why has the public not seen a business case for the project?

Could these funds be used to improve existing infrastruc­ture for the same purpose?

How much will it cost to insure the building?

What plans are in place in terms of inclusive, with specific mention of the LGBTQI+ community?

Not all were answered, but Mr Testoni addressed most.

“As well as wheelchair access and seating we have, through friends of BPACC, a hearing loop for the hearing impaired,” Mr Testoni said.

“In reference to the LGBTQI+ community and inclusivit­y, I’d like to think that council takes that into serious considerat­ion in all of our venues... the space is intended to be a space for all.

“It was about two years ago we (first) had this conversati­on (regarding exiting BPACC).

“At that... time council considered it very seriously and looked at at other venues throughout town...

“Linking this service on the new proposal was... to generate additional activity in the CBD so all businesses would benefit, and (to) make it more accessible to the community being closer to town.”

 ?? ?? Contentiou­s: An artist’s impression of Benalla’s Visitor Informatio­n Centre, cinema and cafe complex.
Contentiou­s: An artist’s impression of Benalla’s Visitor Informatio­n Centre, cinema and cafe complex.

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