Council guarantees Cork Opera House loan

CITY Hall will guarantee a €1.5 million loan being sought by Cork Opera House from the banks.

The theatre will also be required, from now on, to seek the approval of Cork City Council – which owns 39% of shares in the venue – for any borrowing, including overdraft accumulation over €300,000.

The council agreed to convert an outstanding loan balance of €857,073 to a non-repayable capital grant.

Those decisions were agreed at Monday’s council meeting.

The loan conversion brought to some €2.7m the amount of loans the city has given to the theatre over the years which have been converted to non-repayable capital grants.

City manager Joe Gavin rejected suggestions that the loans were simply being written off and stressed that the money is being converted to grants.

In a detailed report to councillors seeking their approval for the guarantee and the grant conversion, Mr Gavin said the theatre is seeking to restructure its short-term loan and overdraft facilities.

It is proposing to secure a loan of €1.5m repayable over 15 years and will require an overdraft of up to €300,000 to cover cash flow situations, he said.

The theatre has made provisions in its budget for repayment of the loan and Mr Gavin said future projections indicate an ability to meet the repayments.

He also said that the venue is reviewing its costs and overheads and whatever measures are necessary must be taken to ensure that deficits do not occur.

“That’s going to require discipline on the part of the board of the Opera House,” he said.

But Workers’ Party Cllr Ted Tynan questioned the amount of money involved and described the Opera House as “elitist”, with ticket prices out of the reach of “ordinary working people”.

However, current and former board members Cllrs Terry Shannon (FF), Sean Martin (FF), Mick O’Connell (Lab) and Denis O’Flynn (Lab) defended the venue. Mr O’Connell said the average ticket price is in the order of €24 to €27.

“Prices for tickets in the tent (Live at the Marquee) down the road this summer will be around €60 – is that elitist too?” he asked.

Mr Martin criticised the Arts Council for the limited funding it provides to the venue. “They talk big about joint partnership, but we’ve been doing it for years. No other council has put as much into the arts as we’ve done,” he said.

Mr O’Flynn said the theatre is run very efficiently and he praised the staff, and called on RTÉ to consider using the venue for staging its Sunday night TV shows, like Fame.

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