Isaac Theatre Royal asks for $2 million loan write-off

The Isaac Theatre Royal wants the city council to write off a $2 million loan it took five years ago to rebuild the historic building because it is unable to pay it back.

Theatre Royal Charitable Foundation director David Stock and chief executive Neil Cox told city councillors it could not be paid back with cashflow and upcoming significant expenses.

The theatre got a $2 million loan from the city council in 2014 to put towards its $40 million post-quake rebuild, alongside a $300,000 grant. The loan was to be paid back within five years.

But in the submission on the city council’s draft long term plan, Mr Stock said while the loan had helped the theatre through a “cash crisis”, it now faced significant costs.

They included having to upgrade the air conditioning which it could not afford to do during the rebuild, developing a right of way from the back of the theatre onto Armagh St, upgrading the lighting system, and putting in an automated fly system, he said.

“It would be a great benefit to the theatre if that $2 million could become a grant.”

He said other projects, such as The Piano and Performing Arts Precinct, had since received city council funding.

Chief executive Neil Cox said the theatre had achieved everything it had set out to do since reopening in November 2014 and provided economic benefit to the area.

He said before the earthquakes, the theatre was hosting 160-180 performances a year. Now it was hosting about 300.

“Over the last three and a half years, over half a million people have walked through our doors.”

Of the $40 million needed for the theatre’s rebuild, here was a $16 million shortfall, $14 million of which was found through grants, donations and other funding.

The theatre then approached the city council for funding assistance to fund the remaining $2 million needed.

Due to the financial pressures at the time, the city council offered the loan, with the opportunity for it to be reviewed in 2019.

Mayor Lianne Dalziel did not want to go into detail about the loan during the public city council meeting.

“There are certain elements of any negotiation, which a commercial loan actually is, that it is probably better not to have a negotiation in the public arena at this stage.”

She said city council staff would work with theatre staff, and city councillors would then be able to base any funding decision on that during the long term plan process.