FOTAA President Vanda Hamilton Response to Recent Astor Theatre website post of 15/03/2015

 

(Vanda is writing below in response to a recent posting on Astor Theatre website labelled “Current Situation:” at http://www.astortheatre.net.au/friends-of-the-astor), and similar comments on the Astor Theatre Facebook page, and other media.

Dear FOTAA Members,

Unfortunately we have been put in a position where we need to refute some assertions made in a post on The Astor’s website. We certainly don’t want to start a flame war, and this will be our last posting in regards to this issue. We also will not answer individual queries.

• The claim has been made that FOTAA was set up by The Astor to support the business. It is true that George Florence held the first meeting. However FOTAA quickly became an incorporated association. Such organisations cannot support private businesses. We have always made this clear to George. Our aims and objectives are on our website, and they clearly state our purpose. It would be outrageous for a community group to raise money from the public to support a private business.

• The claim has also been made that there has been a change of focus by the committee, and that we are now only interested in protecting the building. This is totally untrue – this has never been said to anyone, and the writer of the Astor post did not contact us to verify this statement.

• FOTAA wants The Astor to continue as it is, with George and his team involved. That has always been our position. However, if that cannot be, we want the cinema to remain a single screen cinema with a diverse range of film offerings, and capable of showing film when it can be obtained. George Florence has had a number of opportunities to secure his business.

The lease which was originally offered by Ralamar Nominees included a 20 year tenancy (10 years + 10 years). FOTAA had always been discussing with George the concept of his business eventually being transferred to a trust to be set up by FOTAA. Such a long time frame would have allowed this. There were areas of concern in the lease for George, the prime one being that his business would have had to pay building insurance, a cost they had not had to cover before. FOTAA offered to come up with a scheme to cover that cost, and we were confident that we could do so without transgressing the rules of association which, as pointed out earlier, do not allow us to support a private business. Mediations were held, but despite expert advice from one of Melbourne’s top property barristers, George decided not to enter into a lease with Ralamar. It was our opinion that this lease would have saved The Astor.

When it became clear that the relationship between George and Ralamar had soured to such an an extent that no new lease would be offered to him, FOTTA opened up discussions with Ralamar. Ralamar made it clear to us that they wanted the cinema to continue as it was, and had no other intentions for the building. We discussed the possibility of FOTAA taking on a lease, and sub-letting to George. Clearly this would have been a substantial undertaking, and we needed a very legal structure and advice. Prior to spending member’s money on this, we needed an undertaking from George that, if we took on the lease, he would continue as tenant, and work with us to establish a trust to run The Astor.

At a meeting in late September last year, George told us he was not interested in such an arrangement, and made it clear that he wanted Ralamar to be forced to sell the building.

At the time of the campaign urging the school to sell the building, we made it very clear to George that we only had one shot at this. We would have preferred that Ralamar not buy the building, and that the campaign be continued in such a way that we raised money and the school sold to us. As George had first right of refusal, and did actually make an offer, it is feasible this could have happened. However, George was keen for Ralamar to buy the building, as we were all concerned about whether we could raise funds for much needed maintenance as well as purchase.

In the years since then, FOTAA has consistently advised George that another campaign to force sale of the building was not only not feasible, it was totally undesirable, and would possibly be very damaging. However at the September meeting it was made clear to us that this was the only option George would consider. We knew, and made very clear to George, that Ralamar would not sell the building. And, even were that the case, to launch such an enterprise at the last minute would be lunacy. We asked George to again consider our offer, and later received an email saying that he did not support FOTAA taking on the lease.

Palace Cinemas became involved, and they spoke to FOTAA to ensure that we wouldn’t run a campaign against their involvement. We were happy to make that assurance, as we were under the understanding that the first approach to Palace was actually made by George.

Palace Cinemas can, and will, speak to their efforts to resolve this matter with George, and to have The Astor continue as it is. We are aware that there have been numerous proposals and options put forward to George, and these are still on the table.

For us, now, we are very sad that it has come to this. We are in awe of the institution that George has created. We believe that it needs to be preserved for future generations. We know that this could be sorted out, even at this late hour, and that The Astor could continue to show films from 5 April, with no break (although at some stage some work will need to be done on the building). We wish the parties well in sorting out the matter.

We see ourselves now as having a watching brief – exactly the watch that the post on The Astor asks the public to do. That is what we are here for, and we hope that the public will support us in this.

Please attend our AGM on Saturday 21st March 2015 at 230pm if you have more questions. Thank you for your support.

Best Regards

Vanda Hamilton, President of FOTAA Inc.

(17-03-2015)