Limerick’s Belltable closed to try and solve debt burden

Alan Owens

Reporter:

Alan Owens

THE Belltable Arts Centre was closed this week in order to “take stock” and attempt to clear the theatre’s debts, which run into the order of six figures, the Limerick Leader understands.

THE Belltable Arts Centre was closed this week in order to “take stock” and attempt to clear the theatre’s debts, which run into the order of six figures, the Limerick Leader understands.

A meeting of the Belltable’s board took place this Wednesday to determine the venue’s fate, and it is understood that the board may yet seek to renegotiate terms with its creditors.

Six figure debts have accrued, and accountants have been appointed to manage the company’s debt problems.

The alternative is liquidation, which remains a possibility. An orderly closure was the first step taken by the board, initially on a temporary basis with staff layoffs, while “a re-structuring plan” that would set the venue on a “sustainable path for the future” was established.

A source said the venue was closed to halt programming and the costs associated with that. Money is owed to several creditors, a situation described by the source as “embarrassing”, but the debts are expected to be repaid where possible, or renegotiated if not.

“The burden of debt needs to be gotten rid of, cleared out, and the Belltable given to somebody with a bit of energy to have a go,” said the source.

City councillor Tom Shortt, who sits on the Belltable’s board, admitted this week that there are “outstanding financial issues” attached to the theatre and the company set up to run it, the Belltable Arts Centre Company Limited.

Cllr Shortt explained that there was a “series of problems that needed to be sorted out and we thought the best thing would be a short closure to tackle those problems”.

Cllr Shortt said he couldn’t be precise about when the Belltable would reopen, but the Leader understands that it could be as long as six months before full operations resume.

“We went on as long as we could. It seemed like a good time to take a break and come back with a credible plan. There is only one arts centre in the city and we need to protect it, develop it and grow it and that is what we are busy trying to do,” said Cllr Shortt.

“When you do your housekeeping and you sort out the various problems that are holding you back, just to clear the decks would be an achievement.

Asked if this referred to big business debts and issues with a neighbouring business disrupting shows in the theatre, Cllr Shortt said: “Yes. If you faced one problem you could tackle that and solve it, but when you face a number of problems, that is why we are taking time to tackle those problems head on, so that we can go forward with a clean slate.”

Asked if refinancing was a possibility he said: “A certain amount, and we are seeking backing from our various funding agencies.”

He admitted that the redevelopment “cost more than anticipated”.

City Council own the building and an independent board run it. The executive consists of two representatives from city council, Tom Shortt and Kieran Lehane, two representatives from Shannon Development, Eoghan Prendergast and John Crowe and two independent figures, Mike Fitzpatrick from LSAD and Eoin Brady of Lyric FM.

Artistic director Gerry Barnes has been kept in his position to attempt to resolve outstanding issues and advise the board, while all other staff have been temporarily laid off. The Chimes cafe in the basement of the O’Connell Street theatre is to remain open and will trade as normal, while the art gallery is also still open.