Galway’s controversial arthouse cinema open ‘by end of 2017’

Fianna Fáil councillor disappointed €9.5m project transferring to private operator

 

GALWAY’S controversial arthouse cinema will be of “world class” standard when it opens before the end of this year, according to its new project management team.

Element Pictures director Andrew Lowe, who is overseeing completion of the €9.5 million project, said that it will become a “vital piece of cultural infrastructure” for the city.

However, Fianna Fáil city councillor Mike Crowe says he is still “very disappointed” that a facility, largely funded by the State, is being “transferred to a private operator” without first considering management by Galway City Council.

Element Pictures, which produces, distributes and screens films and runs Dublin’s Lighthouse Cinema, was invited by State funders last year to take over both project management and future running of the Galway cinema after difficulties arose with its completion.

The company is expected to spend up to €1 million on completing the fit-out for the Galway building.

It has also committed to repaying a €650,000 loan provided by the Western Development Commission as part of an agreement drawn up with Galway City Council last year.

Repay debt

The 30-year lease agreed with Element Pictures allows the company up to 25 years to repay the debt and it will then pay a commercial rent to the city in the last five years, Mr Lowe said.

The project, spearheaded by Solas-Galway Picture Palace Teo from 2004, had been hit with delays and consequent cost overruns, including receivership and liquidation of the initial contractor.

Solas had originally been given the site within the city’s new “cultural quarter” on a peppercorn rent for 99 years.

Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys had last year defended her decision to earmark more public funding to complete the project.

Ms Humphreys’s department is giving €3.7 million, with funders also including the Irish Film Board (€1.06 million) and the Cultural Cinema Consortium (€766,000).

Mr Lowe paid tribute to Ms Lelia Doolan of Solas for her “vision and tenacity” and said that “once the building is up and running, people will come to appreciate its idiosyncratic nature and quirky playfulness”.

The building includes three film screens, along with a cafe and bookshop. Ms Doolan has donated 24 stained-glass windows given to her by artist Patrick Scott, which were incorporated into the design by architect Tom de Paor.

Disappointed

Cllr Crowe said he was initially supportive of the project when Ms Doolan approached the city council for funding, but was disappointed that the city council had not retained control of the building when difficulties arose with completion.

“Galway city runs the Town Hall and Black Box theatres, and the Picture Palace could have been added to that portfolio,” Cllr Crowe said.

He also pointed out that Solas is currently working with the Charities Regulator, which appointed an inspector to examine its accounts after an initial examination last autumn.

Cllr Crowe said questions had to be asked as to why a lease transfer took place before this investigation was complete.

Mr Lowe has noted that Galway City Council’s stake of over €2.4 million included the €2 million site purchase cost. He stressed the long-term value of that investment in cultural terms.

Galway is UNESCO city of film and has been designated as European cultural capital title in 2020.

Mr Lowe says the Picture Palace venue ties in with his company’s philosophy that “presentation of films deserves the same care and attention as that involved in producing them”.