Aug 28 2009 by Andrew Welsh, Perthshire Advertiser Friday
HARD-UP tax payers will have to continue coughing up to maintain Perth’s empty former City Hall its ditched developers claimed yesterday.
Fair City charity Artspace, which earlier this year lodged plans to convert the mothballed landmark into a shopping-cum-activity centre, hit out yesterday at local authority plans to restart public consultations on the building’s future.
Following almost four years of inaction at the King Edward Street site, Perth and Kinross Council is expected to formally drop Wharfside Regeneration as the hall’s leaseholders at a specially-convened meeting on Wednesday.
The London-based firm was selected from a clutch of applicants as the multi-million pound project’s preferred developer back in November, 2005, but failed to secure sufficient letting agreements with prospective tenants to create an agreed speciality shopping mall.
Artspace became involved in March, when Wharfside approached PKC with alternative proposals to turn the hall into a arts-based venue for children.
But the council’s depute chief executive Jim Irons has revealed that investigations by independent commercial property specialists found Wharfside were unable to explain how the project would be funded, other than an e-mail from Royal Bank of Scotland and a letter from a private backer expressing interest.
In his damning report to councillors, Mr Irons describes the firm’s feedback as “less that is required to allow an appropriate assessment of the scheme’s viability.”
And he adds: “The stated end investment value of the development is regarded as very optimistic and a more realistic value would not allow Wharfside to secure the level of funding they say they need to deliver the proposal,” he explained.
“No information has been provided on how they will meet the balance of funding over the 65 per cent. of the valuation they state is the maximum loan they could obtain. . .nor regarding a guarantor for the rent payable by Artspace.”
Voicing serious doubts over the partners’ ability to deliver the hall conversion, Mr Irons says he considers Artspace’s business plan and rental income estimates as “unrealistically over-optimistic.”
Mr Irons’ report, which will go before a special council meeting next Wednesday, also alleges the authority was effectively being held to ransom by the developers, who have cited the credit crunch as the main reason for the collapse of the luxury mall plan.
“Wharfside have been asked to produce concrete evidence of funding and viability but have not done so,” states Mr Irons.
“They have indicated that they will not undertake any further work before the council commits to the new proposals.
“To make such a commitment would represent an unacceptable risk to the council.”
CITY hall campaigner Pete Wishart yesterday called for action following the council’s decision to pull the plug on Wharfside.
The Perth MP described proposals to redevelop the venue submitted by the English firm and Perth’s Artspace charity as “inadequate.”
And he claimed: “The abandoning of the Wharfside proposal was sadly inevitable and the council had no option.
“Wharfside have clearly been given plenty of opportunities to get the work started and the council has shown extraordinary patience in order to try and get that done.
“However, they have missed deadline after deadline and have clearly wasted people’s time.
“What is important is that this building or space must be brought back into use and the council must consider all options speedily.
“The people of Perth care passionately about the City Hall and I am pleased to hear that they will be properly consulted about its future.”