Sartor gives $2m to fix the town hall

By Mario Christodoulou
Updated November 5 2012 - 6:15pm, first published September 2 2008 - 11:23am
Frank Sartor stands in front of the pipe organ at the town hall. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI.
Frank Sartor stands in front of the pipe organ at the town hall. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI.

Arts Minister Frank Sartor's dulcet tones drew a crowd at Wollongong Town Hall yesterday, but his audience was only interested in the colour of his money.Mr Sartor promised to help restore the town hall to its former glory with a $2 million cash grant.Wollongong City Council matched the commitment, raising its refurbishment budget from $1.6 million to $2 million.Standing in front of the historic grand organ, Mr Sartor said it made financial sense to reopen the town hall and refurbish it.The machinations behind the money started more than a year ago when the Australian Chamber Orchestra's artistic director Richard Tognetti warned Mr Sartor that if nothing was done, the wrecking ball would come in.Mr Tognetti, who grew up in Wollongong, has led efforts to rescue and restore the town hall, which was earmarked for demolition before the council's sacking.It's a sign of the weight given to his opinion that his comments appeared alongside Mr Sartor's in the government press release yesterday.In May he entertained administrators with a stirring item from composer Paginini to demonstrate the town hall's acoustics.One of the administrators Gabrielle Kibble, was seen to leap from her seat at the end of the performance, which received a standing ovation.Since then Mrs Kibble has been a driving force in the campaign behind the scenes to restore the town hall.As the former director of the NSW Department of Planning and the serving chair of the NSW Heritage Council, Mrs Kibble is well connected in the government planning circles that count.Few doubt the important role the lobbying power of Mrs Kibble, described by some as "Archangel Gabrielle" for her position among the host of government planning officials, contributed to yesterday's funding windfall."Mr Sartor gave us a good ear," Mrs Kibble said afterwards."We had to find a way to put the building back into use for the community ... I personally took the view that we couldn't preside over spending $1.6 million to demolish this building and have another vacant space," she added.Yesterday's announcement was going to be made by NSW Premier Morris Iemma instead of Mr Sartor, according to Wollongong MP Noreen Hay, who welcomed the decision to retain the building."Somewhere along the line someone had to make a decision as to whether it would be cheaper to refurbish it to make it safe or to let it go. (If it were demolished) I'd have been very disappointed."

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