Hall decision leaves theatre group out in cold

The issue over which of two community groups should lease the former girl guide hall in Cromwell has been concluded, leaving a theatre group disappointed and searching for an affordable alternative.

Scouting Otago had a historic lease for the Central Otago District Council-owned building on the Neplusultra Recreation Reserve but when the group went into recess, it was leased to the Fine Thyme Theatre Company for five years. That term expired earlier this year.

The scout group has since re-formed with about 80 members and both it and the theatre group were keen to lease the hall. It was mooted at a Cromwell Community Board meeting earlier this year that the two could work together, but council property officer Brian Taylor told the board this week that after a meeting with both groups, "it was clear that joint occupancy would not work as both are too busy".

The board this week decided to grant the lease to the scout group, leaving the theatre group wondering where to go.

Theatre company president Megan de Joux said it was a bittersweet decision.

She said in a way having the decision was good because "now we can move on", but at the same time, they did not have anywhere to go and could not afford commercial-level rent.

Mr Taylor said he had struggled to determine which group the lease should be granted to and attempts to find alternative space for either group had so far proved unsuccessful.

"On the one hand, it could be argued that Scouts has a preferential right to renew its acquaintance with its former building by virtue of its contemplation in the [Neplusultra Recreation Reserve] management plan. It could also be argued that Fine Thyme has certain rights. While not contemplated in the management plan, it nevertheless held a lease granted after public notification."

He said although the lease could theoretically go either way, it was considered the management plan should take precedence.

The hall had been purchased by the Girl Guides Association of New Zealand when previous owners, the local winter sports club, fell into recess about 1983.

The association entered into a lease with the council for a term of 21 years which expired in 2006 but had a perpetual right of renewal. Both scouts and guides had not used the building for two or three years and it was thought unlikely that the groups would be revived.

Since the scout group reformed about two years ago, the organisation had leased other premises in Cromwell but would rather use the hall.

The board meeting this week discussed alternative sites for the theatre group, such as the Methodist Church and the Memorial Hall, but the rent could be too high.

It was thought the hall seemed like a good property for children to use. Chairman Neil Gillespie said the issue would ultimately be up to the Minister of Conservation to decide.

The lease granted to the scout group is for a term of five years with no right of renewal.

sarah.marquet@odt.co.nz