Rival bids made for Light House cinema building

 

ARTHOUSE CINEMA operator Curzon Artificial Eye and Element Pictures, the producer of films including The Wind That Shakes the Barley and The Guard, have made rival bids to open a cinema at the site of the former Light House cinema in Smithfield, Dublin.

Element co-founder Andrew Lowe confirmed it was “in talks” with the landlord of the building, developer John Flynn of Fusano Properties, after the company was told in July it was the preferred bidder of the Cultural Consortium, an initiative of the Irish Film Board and the Arts Council.

The negotiations have been complicated by the number of parties involved and the fact that Mr Flynn’s loans have been transferred to Nama.

Curzon Artificial Eye, which operates six cinemas in London and counts U2 manager Paul McGuinness among its investors, said it was “surprised and disappointed” not to have received a positive response to the “substantial offer” it made to open a cinema at the Smithfield site.

Curzon chief executive Philip Knatchbull said he had made “a pretty detailed offer” to buy the site some months ago. “But we’re having great difficulty in getting any of the interested parties to respond to it,” he said.

“I can see why there had to be some delay, but I’m surprised that it has been many months now . . . We can’t see there’s any alternative out there that can move as quickly as we can, and that can tick all the boxes.”

Mr Flynn told The Irish Times he had received “several bids” either to rent or purchase the building, but there had been “no decision made yet”. Although Element is the preferred bidder of the Cultural Consortium, its bid was not the highest received by Mr Flynn, who must present a business plan on the future of the site to Nama.

The Department of Arts contributed €1 million and the Cultural Consortium €750,000 to the original fit-out of the building, which opened in 2008.

It is a condition of its planning permission that it remain an arthouse cinema.

The Light House was shut down by a High Court order in April after its operators Neil Connolly and Maretta Dillon were unable to pay the rent on the premises. Minister for Arts Jimmy Deenihan suggested around that time that the Cultural Consortium could itself run a cinema on the site.

Curzon opened its first cinema in Mayfair in London in 1934 and now has more than 600,000 annual admissions. It plans to expand its network of picturehouses – which specialise in arthouse films and world cinema – over the coming years. Mr Knatchbull said the company had “many irons in the fire”. Artificial Eye is the distribution wing of the company, with recent releases including We Need to Talk About Kevin and Melancholia.

Mr Knatchbull said he was certain Curzon could make a commercial success of a cinema at the site. “I wouldn’t be spending all this time and energy making the substantial offer unless I was completely confident and my team were completely confident that it was a stellar opportunity,” he said.

“My overriding concern is that it will get lost in the much larger problems that Nama faces.”

The rival bid from Element, if successful, would mark its first venture into film exhibition. The 10-year old production house, run by Mr Lowe and Ed Guiney, expanded into film distribution four years ago. Alongside Irish film and drama, it distributes about 20-25 feature films in Ireland each year produced by European film company Studio Canal.

It is understood both bidders would wish to continue an arrangement whereby the Irish Film Classification Office uses the cinema as a screening venue.