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‘This is not a fire sale’: Glenorchy council won’t be rushed on DEC sale, says mayor

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The mayor of Glenorchy has said the the city council will not bow to public pressure to sign a deal to hand over the Derwent Entertainment Centre (DEC).

Hobart Chargers David Bartlett

A Tasmanian consortium with ambitious plans to bid for a National Basketball League licence — under the name "Southern Huskies" — said it needed ownership of the site to boost their chances of success.

The members say they want a deal done in the next few weeks.

That timeline, and the pressure tactics associated with it, have raised questions about the ability of the council to properly scrutinise the deal and get maximum value from any sale for long-suffering ratepayers.

The "unsolicited bid" comes from Justin Hickey who owns a series of businesses involved in online marketing, and water bottle company Hydraplay.

Mr Bartlett, a former Tasmanian premier and president of the Hobart-based basketball team the Chargers, is spruiking the bid and negotiating with stakeholders on Mr Hickey's behalf.

Mr Hickey said if he could buy the DEC his vision included a new stadium where the Chargers could pay, "probably" a couple of hotels, conference centre and to make the site a "real sporting precinct".

He said it was his money backing the bid.

'This is not a fire sale'

There is little love for the Entertainment Centre at Glenorchy City Council (GCC), primarily because it is a drain on council finances.

This year the venue will record a $200,000 loss with another $800,000 written off as depreciation.

It had previously been put on the market when it attracted little interest beyond proposals for a service station and a fast-food outlet.

But the property market is very different in Hobart now — estimates of the venue's worth range wildly from $6 million to $20 million.

On the tight timelines associated with the proposed sale process, the Glenorchy Council may not have enough time to test that market properly.

But Ms Johnston rejected any suggestion the council would be pressured into a sale.

"We don't want to be bound by tight timeframes; we want to see best value for the community. We're not time-constrained here," she said.

That was not the impression being created by the consortium.

"It's in their interest to put pressure on the council to make a quick decision. But this is not a fire sale. We will go through the proper process," Ms Johnston said.

Derwent Entertainment Centre sign

'Where will we go? What will we do?'

The "process" is section 178 of the Local Government Act that deals with the sale, exchange or disposal of public land.

It began two weeks ago, and if no-one objects or appeals, the sale can be completed after August 3, some 21 days later.

One of the challenges for council is making sure that, in addition to financial value, it protects the community value for the site.

"It's a state-significant venue," Ms Johnston said.

"It's important that the use of it is maintained for entertainment. It's the largest indoor venue in the state."

News of the possible sale has Robyn Ackerley president of the Southern Dance Eisteddfod, worried.

Over nine days every July, the event sees 2,000 dancers take part in more than 4,000 performances, and the DEC is the only place in Tasmania big enough to hold it.

This year's event has wrapped up and so has their three-year contract.

"My first thought [on the possible sale] was, 'Where will we go? What will we do?'" Ms Ackerley said.

She said she would like a member of the Glenorchy council to come talk with her group.

Performers excited by prospect of sale

However other theatre groups are more enthusiastic.

The Exit Left Performance Academy has used the DEC to put on shows like "Oliver" and "The Sound of Music" in past years.

Founder Ian Williams said he was excited about a takeover of the DEC, arguing the consortium's proposed seating arrangement would be better for performers too.

"It will make the venue more usable," he said.

Alderman Johnston stressed that the site would not be sold if community expectations can not be met.

In recent years, the ratepayers of Glenorchy have witnessed the implosion of their council and its dismissal.

The legacy has been big bills to repair badly managed infrastructure projects like the Glenorchy football/multicultural precinct, and the legal costs of sacked elected representatives and former staff.

Add to that the reputational damage to the council itself.

Budget repair from the new council has come in the form of imposing a 12.5 per cent rate rise.

Phil Butler, spokesperson for the Glenorchy Ratepayers Association, said on the one hand a sale of the DEC could improve the budget position of council but on the other the recent rate rise relieved some pressure to sell at all.

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