Costs a turn-off at Heart

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
The Margaret River Heart.
Camera IconThe Margaret River Heart.

The annual cost to operate the Margaret River Heart may increase as early feedback shows venue hire and staffing costs could be beyond the reach of some community users.

The centre was also not expected to open on weekends — except for commercial events — due to high staff costs, the latest report said.

Despite a good reception from the entertainment industry, the sector had questioned the venue’s staff-hire costs, the report noted.

Heart management also noted resistance to hire rates from community groups.

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“Most community groups have applied for funding to cover staff costs and there has been resistance from some community groups regarding the costs of hire,” it said.

While pledging to work with users, some community groups wanted to “dry hire” the venue by staffing it themselves to avoid costs.

But the report warned risk management, the Heart brand, protection of the facility and its equipment, and “reputational risk” all needed consideration.

“Another alternative is for (the) council to accept that there will need to be a level of funding provided to the Heart budget to cover the staffing of community group events,” the report said.

“This is the preferred option to ensure that the risks to the Shire — financial, physical and reputational — are minimised.”

Some community-staged events would be underwritten by the Shire’s performing arts fund, while $50,000 would be paid annually to former operator Arts Margaret River.

The report said a meeting with the new Arts Margaret River board in May heard that Heart grants would be needed to cover venue hire, technical and staffing costs for about eight to 10 events annually for the group to remain viable.

The new report said venue managers would need to balance premium services while “aiming to optimise cost recovery”.

“Whilst traditionally a performing arts centre is loss-making, the Heart does have a number of functions capable of making a profit to reduce the cost to the community,” it said.

“Where community groups are unable to cover the cost of wages required to host an event at the Heart, the Shire will need to budget for those costs.”

To maximise retained income, the Shire will retain control of the Heart’s commercial bar, while greater certainty around the kitchen hire will be established later this year.

“In the longer term, the Heart may need to consider upgrades to the now semi-commercial kitchen to allow for the possibility of a potential lease where the lessee would be an exclusive caterer to all Heart events, with commission to the Heart, whilst also operating an external catering service and paying the Heart for use of the kitchen,” the report said.

The popularity of cinema offerings would also be tested post-COVID through grant-funded market research.

“To allow proactive engagement with conference and commercial theatrical operators, there needs to be flexibility in event scheduling,” the report said.

“This means that regular cinema scheduling may not always be possible.”

“However, the team will target quiet seasons and school holidays to provide a cinema-going experience to the community.”

The report noted Arts Margaret River lost money from its cinema screenings last year.

The Shire would continue seeking grant funding to help with the venue.

The Heart team was also developing membership and sponsorship packages for the site.

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