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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: March 22, 2011 @ 4:59 pm

    Save this cinema, and some lunchtime theatre

    Laurence Mackin

    Few news items are as likely to cause as much dismay as this report from Laura Slattery that the Light House cinema in Dublin is facing closure, thanks to a hike in rent by its landlord.

    Save this cinema! Won’t somebody please think of the children!

    The landlord, John Flynn, has issued a wind-up petition against the cinema, following a dispute over rent. The petition will be heard in the High Court on Monday. According to Slattery’s piece, “the landlord doubled the annual rent from €100,000 to €200,000 last May. The directors have withheld a portion of the rent charged.”

    This would be little short of a disaster for many reasons. The Light House is, for my money, the finest cinema space with the most eclectic offering in the country. It is a joy to visit and it seems nonsense to think that a city the size of Dublin, with a population that goes to the cinema far more frequently than many of its European counterparts, cannot support two quality arthouse cinemas. I have not heard a bad word spoken about the Light House, and although it struggled financially, ticket receipts were on the up this year. The fact that it had a proper cafe space was another reason to choose it ahead of the multiplex – although there is little doubt which is more profitable: a cafe serving wine and bites, or a popcorn and bags-of-sweets concession.

    For the landlord to take this move seems illogical. When Smithfield was developed, Dublin City Council made the inclusion of a cultural space a condition of the planning permission – it will be interesting to see what could be offered in its stead.

    Secondly, it’s hard to imagine that there are prospective tenants queuing around the empty blocks of Smithfield square to move into a basement cinema space (unless, of course, one of the multiplex operators has already made moves in this direction). The commercial property market is awash with landlords negotiating concessions and downward rent reviews, with the overriding view that it is better to keep a sitting tenant than try to hike the rent and go into a threadbare market looking for new occupiers – and nowhere is this more true than in Smithfield. It almost encapsulates what has gone wrong with Dublin development, a vacant square lined with empty retail units and little signs of life. There is plenty of artistic activity in Smithfield but it is all taking place in temporary spaces with little or no rent changing hands. The Light House is the exception to this rule.

    The cinema’s board of management is currently deciding on its next move, and the cinema is hoping to continue trading. It would be a crying shame if its demise was allowed to pass. The city would be all the poorer for it.

    Last week, I decided to start making a recommendation at the beginning of each week for a show, exhibition, gig or event that you can squeeze in during a lunchtime, or perhaps before catching a bus home from work. This week it’s theatre’s turn.

    Until April 23rd, you can catch 47 Roses at Bewley’s Cafe Theatre on Dublin’s Grafton Street. This is Peter Sheridan’s adaptation of his memoir of growing up in 1960s Dublin. This, though, is no maudlin tale of rats for pillows and stealing coal – it is complex, mysterious and deftly funny, with disarming characters weaving their way through betrayal and politics (don’t take my word for it – Peter Crawley’s review can be found over here). And you don’t even have to miss your lunch to see it – €4 more gets you a light lunch. Tickets are €8-12 and it’s bound to be more fun that queuing up at the canteen.

    • James Hosty says:

      The LightHouse is a gem, a beautiful interior by award winning DTA Architects. Excellent programming. Would the greedy landlord please stand up?

    • Greg says:

      It would be criminal if the Lighthouse were allowed to disappear. It is one of the best things about Dublin by a mile. We need more places like it, not less. The place, the people, the standards of screening, the choice, it has all a modern cinema should have. Damn greedy landlord!!!

    • Mary says:

      This is a disgrace. Taking this cinema out of Smithfield will have an adverse effect on all other struggling business in the area. The cinema is the one thing that brings people to Smithfield day and night. Not only that, there are implications for the very hard working and loyal employees of this cinema. GREEDY LANDORD – VERY TRUE.

    • Brian says:

      It’s worth noting too that, in the next 3 to 5 years, the D.I.T’s are due to relocate and centralise in the Rathdown Road area five minutes up the road. With the student entourage to follow (presumably filling those blocks of largely vacant flats), to close down what is a fine and stylish cinema would stink of expediency.

    • derek says:

      I hope the Lighthouse survives, I prefer going there than the IFI which is a bit dowdy and unloved. How the landlord can think that raising rents in this environment is sensible is sadly not beyond belief but just another example of their stupidity.

    • Buffalo says:

      This is awful news. I go to the Light House quite a lot, it has replaced the IFI for me for the place to see foreign/independent films. Surely there is something the governent can do about this? We need to protect these type of cultural institutions.

    • Diarmuid. says:

      It would be a disaster if the Lighthouse had to close. It’s easily my favourite cinema in Dublin. What with Waterstones closing and now this, Dublin can hardly be said to be a city of culture. Once again the developers screw us.

    • Laurence Mackin says:

      The situation should be clearer on Monday after the High Court petition is heard. Also examinership does not mean the end of the line for the Light House – plenty of companies benefit as a result of it. In 2005, for example, Shamrock Rovers went into examinership with several million in debts, and last year they won the league. A very different business model, admittedly, but the process should not be considered the end of the line.

      Two further points – every time a business closes and people rally around, I can’t help but think of the frontman of an Irish band (I think it may have been the Blades?) who was doing a farewell gig and, playing to the first full house in ages, greeted the crowd with: “Where were you when we needed you?” (I realise I’m sketchy on the details, any clarification would be gratefully received.) However, this has not been the case with the Light House. Most people I have spoken to are using it regularly whereas in the cases of, for example, Road Records and the Sunday Tribune, a lot of people were sad to see them ago but admitted to not being regular punters.

      Also, quite a few people have said to me that they were astonished that it was still in business because they had frequently been to films there in half-empty theatres. Again, this has not been my experience and the owners have said that although conditions have been difficult, the situation had improved in the past year.

    • eleanor methven says:

      As a regular Lighthouse punter, to say I’m ‘dismayed’ is a gross understatement. Of course this city can sustain two Arthouse cinemas, particularly with this one being on the Northside, and adjacent to the new campus, this is madness. It does smell like the landlord has a plan ie a multiplex may wish to sell us more popcorn (and I don’t mean the edible variety). If so, given its location and potential demographic, it would be a good idea to get a response from our new Minister for the Arts who said yesterday at The Stewart Parker Awards in The Abbey that he wanted to do ‘something for the Arts everyday of his tenure’, jimmy.deenihan@oireachtas.ie

    • Buffalo says:

      In my experience the attendance at films at the Light House has definitely increased in the past year.
      I have only been there twice in 2011 and saw Black Swan & True Grit and both were packed screenings. Admittedly these are both mainstream films but I’m pretty sure if they had opened up this time last year they would not have been so busy.

    • Sean says:

      Does anyone know if the landlord is required to maintain the space as a cultural one or has he fulfilled his obligation for the PP at this point?
      Or perhaps, have the cinema given him an ‘out’ of his obligation by withholding a a portion of the rent increase and negating the lease?
      Also, I believe the rent increase was a part of the original lease, so they knew it was coming.
      They’ve also had a shed-load of funding to get off the ground.

      While it may not be popular to say it, I feel the cinema could do a better job of promoting itself.
      The IFI has free screenings for members, the Screen has a blog.
      Both run frequent series of old movies that appeal to their customer base, the same customer base the Lighthouse depends on.
      These efforts may or may not be big earners for them but they do somewhat instill a feeling of belonging beyond the normal merchant/customer relationship.
      There seems to be a build-it-and-they-will-come business model in effect in D7. I don’t see this cutting it in the current climate.

      I agree with the previous comments and would like the Lighthouse to stay. It is a fantastic space and needs to be shared by more people.
      Hopefully this works out well and the Lighthouse remains with us for many years to come.


    • Laurence Mackin says:

      Eleanor – I would imagine the dept won’t be drawn until after Monday, given that this is the subject of legal proceedings.

      Sean – Some fair points well made. I’ll ask someone more knowledgable than me regarding the planning issues. Regarding the rent, it may have been in the lease, but leases across the board had increase clauses in them that have now been renegotiated given market conditions. Unless there is an alternative tenant in the pipeline, it’s hard to imagine why the landlord would play hardball.

      Ted – Thanks for the link, really interesting additional information

    • Frank McDonald says:

      The huge development on the west side of Smithfield was always meant to have a “cultural element” — that’s the reason why the developers, Fusano, were allowed to gross up so many apartments on the site. The Light House Cinema took a long time to materialise there, but when it did Derek Tynan Architects showed what could be done with a triple height basement void. Their stunningly ingenious scheme managed to slot no less than four cinemas into this space (that might otherwise have been used for car parking) and in such a way that there’s no sense of being oppressed in being deep underground. The last time I was there was with my Dad, to see The King’s Speech;. Both of us thoroughly enjoyed the film and the entire experience of the cinema.

      It would be a tragedy for Smithfield, and for Dublin, if the Light House was to close now due to unrealistically high rental levels.

    • Laurence Mackin says:

      Dublin City Council have come through with this:

      “All developments granted planning permission must be carried out in accordance with the plans and particulars lodged, any amendments that constitute a material change of use from what was originally approved would require a previous grant of planning permission.” So if the Light House were to go and not be replaced by a “cultural element” it appears the developer would have to renegotiate the planning permission.

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