FREMANTLE council’s decision to float the sale of Victoria Hall has been described as “ominous” by the Fremantle Society.
The council had already flagged the sale of the heritage-listed hall when it adopted its 2018/19 budget, but at its finance and policy committee meeting on Wednesday councillors voted to put it out for tender once the Fly by Night has vacated.
Society president John Dowson, describing the council as “cash-strapped” said his organisation had grave concerns about whether the council would prevent a new owner from inappropriately developing the hall.
“Given this Talbot Hobbs masterpiece is a high-quality example of a community hall saved several times for the community, the question must be asked – to be sold to whom for what?” Mr Dowson said.
“Given Fremantle council’s recent poor record at defending heritage, of allowing for example development and the nationally significant Warders Cottages contrary to the conservation plan, and damaging works to the Atwell and Mannings Buildings, there is no reason to believe that Fremantle council will do anything to protect Victoria Hall from inappropriate development and use in the hands of a private owner.
“There are far too few community theatres and performing spaces left in Fremantle.
“Victoria Hall has been saved several times in the past for the community. Who will save it now.”
In fact, it was the council itself which stepped in where there were plans to develop apartments at the rear of the hall, the intention initially to restore it with a rolling heritage fund and then on-sell.
But the council fell in love with the restored theatre and decided to keep it, with the first tenants Deckchair Theatre.
Former mayoral candidate Ra Stewart accused the council of stripping assets to fund its debt.
“I wonder if we will recoup the expenses associated with restoration and holding costs,” she wondered.
“I’m no valuer or real estate expert, but by my reckoning this places Vic Hall at somewhere around $3 million.”
The council budget puts a net book value on the place of $3.9 million, although it has pencilled in a loss.
If full council ratifies the committee’s decision, the funds would be split between town hall restoration and heritage reserves.