DSO, choir criticise town hall costs, processes

Dunedin Symphony Orchestra manager Philippa Harris outside the Dunedin Town Hall yesterday. PHOTO...
Dunedin Symphony Orchestra manager Philippa Harris outside the Dunedin Town Hall yesterday. PHOTO: Gregor Richardson
Two Dunedin musical organisations have criticised the main venue operator of the Dunedin Town Hall, saying its processes are confusing and the costs prohibitive.

At this week’s annual plan hearings, the Dunedin Choral Society and the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra spoke about their concerns over Dunedin Venues Management Ltd (DVML) when it came to booking the town hall.

Dunedin Symphony Orchestra manager Philippa Harris said when DVML assumed management of the town hall about a decade ago, the hire rate for the DSO was $13,500 per year.

Since then, the annual charge had increased to $44,000 but the other charges and costs rose to a maximum of $74,540 all up.

Ms Harris said the organisation asked for the town hall costs to be fixed at a community rate.

The DSO usually had to pay full commercial rates for two of its four annual concerts, she said.

"There should be some consideration of the social good that the organisation brings."

Choral society chairwoman Deborah Dons said there were problems with the way DVML handled bookings.

"DVML will only guarantee us a booking one month from the date of a concert.

"The orchestra and soloists must be contracted months in advance to obtain their services. We commit to paying their fees, flights and accommodation with no clear certainty from DVML that the date of the booking is secure."

Although the choir could apply for a community access grant from DVML to assist with the hiring fee, a commercial interest wishing to have the same date would be given priority, Ms Dons said.

"The outcome of this situation results in the choir having to either sacrifice the booking or commit to a new contract at the full hire rate — double that of the community rate. Both options are untenable."

A full hire rate for the venue was about $14,000 for a concert, Ms Dons said.

"The town hall has always felt like ours ... The acoustics are renowned — there’s nothing that compares to them.

"But we can only afford it once a year."

The staff at DVML were helpful, but the processes were "confusing", Ms Dons said.

DVML chief executive Terry Davies said DVML worked closely with the DSO and the choral society.

"Pencil bookings" were only held for three months, but this was standard commercial practice, he said.

"The booking policy is applied to ensure the calendar is up to date and accurate to allow for additional bookings. It should be noted, DVML very rarely remove a booking without consulting the hirer first."

When a pencil booking was challenged by another hirer wanting the date, the original hirer had the first right to release the date or move to a confirmed contract, he said.

"This ensures we do not lose business if the pencil booking were to drop off."

For the four concerts the DSO held, DVML received 10 requested pencil bookings into the booking system, he said.

"Each booking is two days (pack-in and event day).

"These pencil bookings are up to one-year ahead. Given they are highly sought-after dates (mostly weekends), it presents a high chance they will be requested by another hirer, therefore a process to manage this is essential."

Rental rates had increased over the past decade in line with market rates, while other costs provided by third-party suppliers such as security, stage extensions, piano tuning and road closures were not dictated by DVML, Mr Davies said.