Friday, June 18, 2010

Palace Academy Twin Cinema To Close?

Palace Cinemas has announced Paddington’s Academy Twin Cinema is to close its doors indefinitely at the end of the month, one year short of its centenary. It is savage blow to film culture in a city that has already endured so much hurt by the closure of arthouse cinemas.

Commentators were quick to point at a presumed lowed audience attendance, but according to executive director Benjamin Zeccola the reason for the closure is the failure of lease negotiations between Palace and the building’s owners, the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW.

“Without exaggeration, we’ve been putting proposals to them for nigh on five years,” says Zeccola. “There maybe six months or a year between proposals but you spend a lot of time creating the plan, strategy and how you are going to execute it... It’s all been rejected."

According to Zeccola, Palace continued to make attempts to secure the lease until 5pm, Wednesday, 16 June, but fear the doors will be locked come 30 June demand the arthouse cinema chain take action to secure and remove the equipment owned and installed by the company including seats, projection units, screens and the soundsystem. “It just too late and I can’t believe we took it up to less than two weeks from when the doors will be effectively locked.”

The major impasse is the current rental rates demanded by Academy Twin owners the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW and Zeccola says the committee that manage the property has been unwilling to negotiate on this. “They will not discuss the rental level. They want a rental that is inflated, that’s above cinemas that are double the size of it. It is a ridiculous and unreasonable rental level and the condition of the building is appalling. It is just disgraceful.

“A camel is a horse designed by committee, sometimes you can’t get effective decision making through that sort of structure. It’s certainly not like dealing with an individual that has a goal. If you are dealing with one businessman who owns it or a company or any individual who wants to see the best for the property, or the property prosper into the future, that is a much more straight-forward negotiation.”

Harry Denalis, President of the Greek Orthodox Community committee that manage the property, says negotiations have not yet failed and it is Palace Cinemas making unreasonable demands with respect to the lease agreement between the two.

“We’re still talking with Palace and there will be a decision made next week. The difficulty is Palace want a drastic reduction in rent from the amount they are paying, well over a third reduction in rent to the rent they’ve been paying for the last four or five years. That’s the sticking point...

“Of course we’ve got other cinema chains that are interested and we are talking with them; as soon as the situation becomes clear with Palace we will start negotiating. We’ve already had preliminary talks and as soon as the situation with Palace becomes clear we start talking with the others with a view to retaining the cinemas as they are. Palace is not the only player in town.”

The back and forth between Denalis and Zeccola doesn’t bode well for the future of Academy Twin, which plays host to film festivals including the French, Italian, Spanish, German and Mardi Gras. What is especially disappointing about the situation is the fact audience attendance is not the ultimate threat to its immediate future, though certainly that plays a big part of what Palace can afford to invest in the venue, Sydney’s first twin cinema.

“The Academy has been effected by the openings of Bondi Junction [Events, Westfield] and Fox Studios,” admits Zeccola. “That has had an effect on the three cinemas on Oxford Street and that happens as a city grows, new competition comes in and that impacts the incumbents. That’s ok, but each individual business needs to maintain its competitive strengths and advantages and to adapt to the environment around it. Palace Cinemas is capable of adapting and we flourish under pressure.”

In this regard Palace Cinemas will certainly find a lot of support given its commitment to the arthouse industry and its role in saving the Chauvel Cinema, which it operates alongside the Verona and Academy Twin all on Oxford Street, Paddington. Zeccola argues Palace successfully show it is possible to operate all three cinemas in such close proximity by offering complementary programming and a diversity of choice for Sydney’s cinema-going community.

“That’s not actually the problem here,” continues Zeccola. “The problem here is it’s a dilapidated building and the landlord is demanding an exorbitant rent and it cannot be met. [The Greek Orthodox Community] have been taken through the figures over many years and they understand the Academy has actually been losing money substantially for a number of years and Palace cannot afford to pay them a ridiculous rent and lose money in the process.

“Palace’s responsibility is to its staff, its suppliers and the stakeholders in the business. It would be irresponsible of us to sign onto a bad rent deal. We can’t do that. The rental proposals we’ve put forward are based on a small loss and at best a break even position. There wasn’t even going to be any profit in it for this company and it was still met with the rejection of the Greek Orthodox Community.”

Despite Zeccola’s claims, Denalis is adamant the committee wants Palace to stay and it has told them as much, but that the rent demands are what they are for good reason. “Palace is not the only one that has to make money in this world. We run child care centres, hostels, churches, schools and they are just as important activities for us to continue with as it is for people to go see Hollywood flicks or whatever flicks that are showing.”

When asked whether he thought Academy Twin would suffer the same fate as Glebe’s Valhalla Twin Cinemas, Zeccola offered a bleak assessment.

“That’s what is looking likely. As it stands we don’t have a lease in a fortnight’s time. I don’t even know if in good conscious I can accept the support of people to pay an unrealistic rent from the landlord for no good reason for a dilapidated building. In order for it to be saved we need to come to terms with the landlord on a complete redevelopment.”

For his part Denalis understands Palace wishes to refurbish the cinema, but that the Greek Orthodox Community is unwilling to bear some of the cost by reducing the rent, saying “They are looking for us to invest this money in their cinemas.”

The truth, as always, may lie somewhere in the middle. What is without a doubt is that without some compromise being met between Palace Cinemas and the Greek Orthodox Community the doors to Academy Twin will close 27 June, 2010. Whether they will ever reopen once that happens should be of gravest concern to Sydneysiders as a whole and not just its cinema-loving community.

Follow Scott Henderson on Twitter for continuing updates.
Academy Twin's Facebook page to show your support.
Finally, please continuing tweet with #saveacademytwin.

Recommended reading:
Friday 18/06
Palace Cinemas announcement.
Sydney Morning Herald story.
Lyden Barber's post at Eyes Wide Open.
History of Academy Twin here and here.
DVD Bits coverage.
Boudist article by Time Out Sydney photographer Daniel Bould.
Jack Sargeant's 2005 article in Reel Time on saving Sydney's arthouse cinemas.
Chris Stephenson at MEDIAtion wonders if there's brands out there who might invest in such a media space.

Show May Not Be Over At Academy Twin – SMH Sat 20/6

Recommended viewing:
Into The Shadows trailer


Hugo O'Connor said...

If readers want to make an appeal to the building owners of the Palace Academy Twin, I've uploaded a letter writing kit (including relevant names and addresses) here: