Tuesday 24 April 2018

Galway's controversial €8.4m 'world class' cinema to open this week

Long-awaited project had been stalled by funding, contractual and structural issues

Palas Cinema Galway
Palas Cinema Galway

Sasha Brady

Galway's long-delayed "world-class" arthouse cinema is finally set to open its doors this Friday.

The Pálás cinema incorporates three state-of-the-art cinemas, a bar, a bookshop and a café . It's being touted as a "cultural hub" for Galway, similar to Dublin's Light House cinema in Smithfield.

Based at 15 Merchants Road Lower near Spanish Arch in Galway city, the project is designed by architect Tom de Paor.

The company is promising "an eclectic mix" of the best new Irish and international films, with classics, foreign language, animated films and special events.

Films screened on opening weekend include Lady Bird starring Saoirse Ronan, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of the Water and I, Tonya with Margot Robbie.

The cinema has been beset with controversy since construction began in 2009, with various funding, contractual and structural issues.

It cost the State €8.4 million in public funding, which is €2.2m over the initial expected outlay of €6.3m.

The cinema was first proposed in 2004 when the charity Solas-Galway Picture Palace Teoranta was established to raise funds to construct a purpose-built arthouse theatre in Galway.

However, there were concerns over how the project was being managed. The company eventually accumulated losses of more than €540,000 at the end of 2014.

At that time, the amount it owed to creditors stood at €4.5 million, while it listed tangible assets were worth just under €3.9 million, according to RTE.

While the project was sponsored by a private entity with grant assistance from public funds, the State bore most of the financial risks which arose when the project ran into difficulties.

Following these financial concerns, the public funders including Galway City Council, the Irish Film Board and the Department of the Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs asked Element Pictures to take over the project.

Element Pictures, which owns Dublin's Light House Cinema, took over management and completion and signed a 30-year lease agreement with Galway City Council.

As an agreement the company said it would not pay rent for the first 25 years but it would invest more than €1m into the project.

In early 2017 the Charities Regulator began a statutory investigation into the financial affairs of Solas-Galway Picture Palace Teoranta.

In a statement, the Charities Regulator said "it is important to note that the opening of a statutory investigation is not in itself a finding of any wrongdoing. In the public interest, the current policy of the Charities Regulator is to generally release a public statement whenever the Authority appoints an inspector to carry out a statutory investigation into a charity.

"Issues have arisen in relation to the proper treatment of the charity’s assets in a commercial arrangement proposed with a new investor."

In July 2017 Solas went into liquidation.

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