VOX FM hands theatre building back to council

Steen, manager of the Phoenix Theatre in Coniston. Pictures: KIRK GILMOUR

Steen, manager of the Phoenix Theatre in Coniston. Pictures: KIRK GILMOUR

Wollongong City Council is set to buy back the Phoenix Theatre building from community radio station VOX FM for one dollar, leaving doubts about the future of the independent arts company's performances.

The radio station bought the- 24 Bridge Street property from the council for $1 in 2006, but decided late last year to sell the property.

Board member Shirley Smith on Thursday told the Mercury the radio station did not wish to comment about the reasons behind the sale, except to say the Phoenix Theatre was "a totally different entity to VOX FM".

It is understood VOX FM members voted at their annual general meeting, held on October 27, to offer the theatre back to the council because of costs involved in owning the building as well as an ongoing dispute with theatre management.

''We're happy, because the building is now out of the hands of an organisation there were many difficulties with.''

''We're happy, because the building is now out of the hands of an organisation there were many difficulties with.''

Last month, commentators on the Mercury's website and Facebook page alluded to the ill-will between VOX FM and Phoenix Theatre and directed personal attacks towards the theatre manager.

Ms Smith said VOX FM board members were unaware of the online campaign.

A council spokesperson confirmed it had been offered and accepted the return of the Phoenix Theatre building, as outlined in the 2006 terms of the sale.

The spokesperson said the transfer back to council ownership is currently under way and is expected to be completed by late January.

"A report will be prepared identifying options for the future of the site, and this will be submitted to the council for consideration within the next couple of months."

Phoenix manager Steen said the pending sale meant operations were "a bit up in the air" for his theatre company at present, but he was generally pleased about the change of ownership.

"We're happy, because the building is now out of the hands of an organisation there were many difficulties with," he said.

"Now, the council will make a decision and we will move on from there."

He said the theatre had submitted a proposal asking the council to allow it to purchase the building for one dollar.

"We would like the building to be sold to us under the same terms and opportunities VOX FM had," he said.

"But we've insisted that no public money will be spent on the building - we've always paid our own bills and stood on our own two feet."

Steen also disputed claims the theatre had been too costly for the radio station, saying the theatre company had always covered its own costs.

He said he knew of the animosity between the two organisations but did not know who was responsible for the online campaign.

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