Shire mulls Heart takeover

Warren HatelyThe West Australian
The role for Arts Margaret River in running the redeveloped cultural centre remains in limbo. Also affected is the local volunteer cinema. Pictured is Arts Margaret River general manager Andrew Frith.
Camera IconThe role for Arts Margaret River in running the redeveloped cultural centre remains in limbo. Also affected is the local volunteer cinema. Pictured is Arts Margaret River general manager Andrew Frith. Credit: Warren Hately

The Shire of Augusta-Margaret River is considering taking on running the soon-to-be-completed new cultural centre itself, which could sunder a long agreement with volunteer-backed group Arts Margaret River.

Ratepayers funding day-to-day management of the new Margaret River Heart complex will be one of several options presented to councillors later this month.

The Shire and Arts Margaret River have been locked in protracted discussions about the management of the redeveloped “hub for events, arts and regional tourism”, with no word of a breakthrough.

It comes as the nearly-$10 million redevelopment prepares to open with no management plan in place.

New Shire chief executive Stephanie Addison-Brown said governance models for the new cultural centre were among her key priorities since starting work late last month.

The management report, expected to come to the August 28 meeting, would likely flesh out three options for running the centre, with a full Shire-led option one of the choices.

Continuing the annual subsidy for Arts Margaret River’s management, and some kind of “hybrid” model would also be canvassed, Ms Addison-Brown said.

Shire insiders said officers were keen to take over full management of the centre. Arts Margaret River declined to comment due to sensitivities around negotiations.

Some councillors, such as Mike Smart, have criticised the annual subsidy paid to the arts group in years past, and because the redevelopment required a major reassessment of costs, in-house running of the centre is considered a strong option.

That choice would add more to the Heart’s running costs, with the Times last week reporting 2019-20 would see about $1.131 million spent in addition to the still-undisclosed full construction costs of the redevelopment.

In May, Arts Margaret River’s Rob Rumball and general manager Andrew Frith fronted the council prior to adoption of the Shire’s annual budget, proposing changes to save $200,000 from the centre’s operational costs.

These changes did not find their way into the final budget.

Figures in the arts community told the Times they would be shocked if the Shire ousted the volunteer group in favour of running the Heart itself, and said more than $120,000 already set aside for two full-time positions would only be the start of added costs.

Arts sources said volunteer organisations qualified for events funding the Shire could not obtain.

There was also scepticism about local government running the centre without costs spiralling, given the growth in the Heart’s construction cost from $6.9 million in 2014, plus an unrelated cost blowout in the main street redevelopment, which will now see it undertaken in stages starting next month.

A private operator for the centre’s new commercial kitchen was touted previously, and some questioned whether Arts Margaret River’s volunteer base had the capacity to run the more complicated facilities.

After the council knocked back tenders for the centre in December, Arts Margaret River president Fred Affleck said the new centre was a more technical venue and required more staff.

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