Still no cinema solution

Just months before the end date of their lease draws closer, the future of Cinema Augusta remains in the dark.

After a four-year-long battle with the state and local government to determine the fate of the cinema, owners Michelle and Roger Coles have grown increasingly frustrated in recent months as the end date of their lease in June looms.

The cinema's site is currently owned by the state government, however, discussions arose some time ago about the possibility of transferring ownership to the Port Augusta City Council (PACC) as the state government no longer requires the complex for educational purposes.

Since then, little progress in negotiations has been made.

Michelle and Roger are concerned about the implications of a handover in ownership and a lack of long-term security.

"We feel they [council] probably want a commercial lease, and the cinema can't afford that," Michelle said.

"They want to make money out of it.

"Nobody should make any money out of it [the building] - it should be for the community."

The sticking point for the negotiations is that the building requires many upgrades and general maintenance, including extensive repairs to the air conditioning system.

The Coles' said if it means keeping the cinema in the Port Augusta community, they are happy to foot the bill for the repairs - but only if the lease comes directly from the state government.

"We don't want to deal with the council at all anymore," Michelle said.

She said despite the state government approaching council last year, PACC haven't involved the Coles' in their negotiations whatsoever.

"It was our idea to go to council, and they haven't cooperated," Michelle said.

"They haven't even once approached us personally to talk about the lease arrangement and about what they want."

Michelle and Roger have since proposed a five-by-five year lease direct from the state government with the Coles' covering the maintenance costs.

Michelle said a solution is imperative because the cinema is such an important part of the Port Augusta community.

"I think the issue is that the community and we are fed up - we just want a solution," she said.

"At the end of the day, Roger and I don't care what happens to us, we just want a solution for the community of Port Augusta.

"Because if you're a kid in Port Augusta, where else do you take your boyfriend or girlfriend when you're 12?

"Or where else can your kid get dressed up and go, where you know it is safe?

"If this goes, it will never be replaced."

The Port Augusta community have also responded with fervor, with many residents offering messages of support to Cinema Augusta and several also attending last week's council meeting to put pressure on elected members to help secure the cinema's future.

Port Augusta City Council, the local member for Stuart and the Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills have offered insight into the future of the building complex which currently houses the Cinema Augusta. 

PACC director of city and cultural services Lee Heron confirmed the Department of Further Education, Employment, Science and Technology (DFEEST) made an offer to council in July of 2013 regarding opportunities to take over responsibility for DFEEST buildings. 

She also confirmed that to date, lease provisions with Cinema Augusta have not been discussed, however, this will take place with the owners once council has confirmed the terms and conditions with the state government. 

Council have since outlined concerns over the ongoing required maintenance of the buildings.

“Council will consider taking over the buildings, but it will also need to have all relevant information to consider the level of community needs for these buildings and the cost that would be incurred to take over responsibility for them,” Ms Heron said. 

“The state government have indicated previously that they will not make any financial contribution to work required to remediate the buildings and therefore all costs associated with these buildings upgrades would be ratepayer funded.” 

Ms Heron said toilet plumbing upgrades, structural damage upgrades, internal flooding from box gutters remediation, air conditioning replacement, refurbishment of areas and ongoing annual operating costs such as power, water, and insurance were all costs which council would impact their annual budget. 

“The issue here is that council, although determined to find a way of keeping the cinema operational, is being painted as the bad guy,” she said. 

“It is plainly not reasonable to expect council to make a rushed decision on taking control of an asset that requires so much capital to upgrade without due diligence and consideration.”

Both local member for Stuart Dan van Holst Pellekaan and PACC said they consider the cinema to be an integral part of the Port Augusta community.

“The cinema and the service Roger and Michelle provide to Port Augusta and the surrounding areas are incredibly important,” Mr van Holst Pellekaan said. 

“The Coles’ and I have agreed from the beginning that they should be given a lease whereby they cover all the costs of the building - no more and no less, so there is no burden on the taxpayer.” 

“Council will continue to strive for a positive outcome for Cinema Augusta whether that be a direct lease between Cinema Augusta/ state government or Cinema Augusta/PACC,” Ms Heron echoed. 

Upon questioning, the outgoing Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills Grace Portolesi offered the following comment:

“There has been no change, the discussions are ongoing.” 

Mr van Holst Pellekaan said he will continue to support the Coles’ to find an equitable solution, and he hopes to see the state Liberals elected into government so he can work with “a new government which cares about regional people and businesses”. 

With election results still up in the air, a new state government  or new minister may see negotiations over the building take a different direction.

MOVIES: Cinema Augusta owner Roger Coles would like to come to an agreement about the future of the business soon.

MOVIES: Cinema Augusta owner Roger Coles would like to come to an agreement about the future of the business soon.