DEVELOPER and impresario Harry Crosbie has backed a proposal to purchase the Bord Gáis Theatre, which he developed, to create a people’s theatre.
New Beginning, a civic group in charge of insolvency and debt-resolution issues, is planning to sell the 2,111 seats in the Dublin theatre for €10,000 each in order to set up a trust ‘for the benefit of the artistic and cultural life of the State’.
Nama, Ireland’s ‘bad bank’, acquired the theatre when it was covering debts owed by ex-owner Harry Crosbie. Nama has turned down New Beginning’s offer of €20m for the theatre, though the civic group has since written to Minister Michael Noonan, asking him to stop the theatre’s sale to a commercial developer.
The winning bidder will own the theatre until 2207, and pay notional annual rent of €100.
With an annual revenue of over €8m, the theatre, which cost €80m to build, has been very profitable since its 2010 opening, having sold 455,000 seats last year.
CBRE, the body conducting the sale on behalf of Nama, has refused other bidders as well. It is likely that the theatre will be sold for a much larger sum than €20m.
Vincent P Martin at New Beginning, however, said: ‘We remain hopeful.’ He could not comment further because the group signed a non-disclosure agreement with Nama during the tender process.
Meanwhile, Harry Crosbie said he approves of New Beginning’s proposal: ‘I think it’s a very good idea. It would be wonderful if the people of Ireland owned it.
‘I cannot be a part of the ownership because of the rules of Nama, but will help any way I can.
‘They asked me if they were successful would I be honorary chairman and I said I’d be honoured.’
When asked whether he believed Mr Noonan will make an exception, Crosbie refused to comment. Abbey Theatre director Senator Fiach Mac Conghail said: ‘I do think a portion of the Bord Gáis Theatre should be kept for public use and non-commercial purposes and the arts.’
A spokesman for the finance minister said Mr Noonan cannot intervene in normal business conducted by Nama, according to the legislation that set the body up.
He said that some news reports about had referred to article 14 of the Act, which allows the minister to become involved in extreme circumstances, but said that this does not apply in this instance.
THE Grand Canal Theatre opened in 2010, having been developed by Harry Crosbie for around €80m, a sum indirectly subsidised by the State through the swap of adjacent publicly owned land.
In 2012 it was renamed the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre to offset construction costs. The theatre, designed by Daniel Libeskind, has been profitable since it opened in 2010. Mr Crosbie says that as a stand-alone project, the venue has borrowings of just €13.8m and that these can be repaid from its revenues.
In 2013, Nama acquired the theatre when it took over Mr Crosbie’s €420m debts.
Mathilde Frot, The Irish Mail on Sunday, 2014