THE Belltable’s board of directors have been accused of “poor management” by angry creditors left out of pocket by the decision to wind up the company running the theatre.
A creditors’ meeting was held last Tuesday, March 12 to present a statement of affairs for the Belltable Arts Centre Company Limited and to appoint liquidator Gearoid Costelloe. The company has debts in excess of €2.3m.
The company has 74 unsecured creditors, amounting to €1,115,883 - including a disputed claim with BAM building contractors, who carried out extensive renovations works to the theatre at 69 O’Connell Street in 2009 and 2010 and who are seeking €965,104 from the company as a result of variations to the €1.2m contract. Former chief executive Peter McNamara acted as the board’s representative during the build.
Most of the other 73 creditors are artists, musicians, theatre companies and local businesses, left in the lurch by the company’s liquidation – including Decadent Theatre Company, Orchard Theatre Company, well known Irish musician Julie Feeney and comedian Kevin McAleer, Unfringed artistic director Duncan Molly and Fresh Film, who held a fundraiser organised by Pat Shortt in the Belltable last year and are now owed €3,000.
Simon Thompson of Orchard Theatre Company, who are owed €2,565, said that the board “needs to stand up and be more accountable for what is going on, blaming BAM is merely a smokescreen.”
“As a small business owner, we know daily what our creditors and we owe. To allow something like this to run for this period of time is absolutely scandalous. There is an ineptitude and poor management which is blatantly obvious within the Belltable. The Belltable company were buying in product, from artists, performers, from suppliers, knowing full well they did not have the ability to pay.”
Board member Eoin Brady, of Lyric FM, chaired the creditors meeting and spoke on behalf of the other members, who include local councillor Tom Shortt, Ella Skehan, Mike Fitzpatrick of LSAD, Eoghan Prendergast and John Crowe of Shannon Development.
He said by way of reply to Mr Thompson: “Unfortunately this is a creditors’ meeting so it only relates to the statement of affairs and the debate about the conduct of directors has already been going on outside these walls, so I can’t comment on that.”
Speaking during the meeting, Mr Brady said the board was “acutely aware how devastating this decision has been for all involved in the Belltable Arts Centre.”
Four employees are owed more than €43,000 from the company, and are listed as preferential creditors on the statement of affairs prepared by the board.
Gearoid Costelloe said he was “anxious” the employees be “dealt with immediately”. Five staff have lost their jobs as a result of the closure.
The large creditor claim from BAM - who carried out a €1.2m renovation of the theatre less than three years ago, which was funded by the Department of Arts and Limerick City Council - was pointed to Mr Brady as a contributory factor in the company’s decision to wind up operations. The figure, €965,104, is in dispute between the parties and was, according to the statement of means, a sum “agreed by two executives of the company during the course of a nonbinding mediation, subject to the Belltable being able to secure funding on or before January 11, 2013.”
The statement reads: “this agreement was not subsequently ratified by the board of directors of the company, and a doubt exists as to the status of the claim. There is a dispute between BAM and the directors of the Belltable in relation to the value and validity of variations which occurred during the renovation work. This will now be an issue for the appointed liquidator.”
Mr Brady said the board had to deal with a claim for “excesses to a fixed price contract” in relation to the refurbishment of the theatre - €738,000 plus VAT - or “101 variations” from the agreed contract.
Protracted negotiations followed, as did nonbinding mediation and a settlement figure, which, after discussions with stakeholders in the theatre, was not ratified. During this period the company was unable to file audited accounts because of ongoing problems in deciding what figure was owed to BAM, and “in these circumstances”, the stakeholders were unable to continue funding the Belltable and a decision was made to permanently cease trading, and on February 18, to liquidate the company.
In questions that followed, Gerard Murray of BAM asked Mr Brady - who was representing the board - about the arrangements with regard to the original contract, how it was to be funded and what processes were put in place to manage the project.
Mr Brady said that the project had two-thirds funding from the Department and one third from City Council.
Mr Murray asked: “What processes were put in place to ensure that directors were informed of changes to the contract and to manage the contract during the development phase?”
Mr Brady said that the board appointed a “professional representative” to provide feedback to the board. Asked if knowledge was being transferred back to the board of variations, Mr Brady said: “I can’t answer that.”
Mr Brady said that the dispute had “ultimately led us to this point”.
The building, which was held under lease, has reverted to City Council, who own it.