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Bruce Mason bailout

LIZ WILLIS
Last updated 09:45 31/01/2014
Bruce Mason

CHANGING HANDS: The Bruce Mason Centre owes about $500,000 and Regional Funding Auckland is due to take over management of it from March.

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Serious financial problems mean the stage is set for Takapuna's Bruce Mason Centre to be taken over by Auckland Council's venues organisation.

Regional Facilities Auckland and the independent North Shore trust that now manages the centre have been in talks since last year.

The centre is about $500,000 in debt and RFA will take that over to ensure it stays open, Bruce Mason Centre Board chairman Mike Atkinson says.

Staff received a letter on Wednesday, giving them one month's notice of employment termination, that describes the "serious financial situation" the centre faces.

The letter refers to staff being told earlier this month "that the organisation had reached the stage where it could no longer pay wages and other liabilities on an ongoing basis".

In view of its inability to pay staff, the letter says RFA will pay wages for the next month and any annual leave owing.

The letter states RFA will help staff find new jobs but notes there are no vacancies within the organisation. It says RFA will look for other opportunities within Auckland Council and the private sector.

The letter, from Mr Atkinson and RFA chief executive Robert Domm, offers counselling or assistance if staff need it.

RFA is due to take over management of the centre from March.

Poor ticket sales to several shows last year left the theatre "exposed" and a relationship with RFA is the best solution for its future, Mr Atkinson told the North Shore Times.

The small theatre and conference centre is struggling on its own in a highly competitive market and "this is the sensible and rational thing to do", he says

About six of the centre's nine staff won't have jobs there, Mr Atkinson says.

He says he is unable to comment at this stage about whether chief executive Andrew Scott will leave.

Two to three staff will stay and others will be offered to help to find work at other RFA venues or with other employers.

RFA manages more than $968 million of major regional facilities including Viaduct Events Centre, Auckland Town Hall, Aotea Centre and The Civic.

Mr Atkinson says staff welfare is important during the process.

One source says staff were shocked to be told RFA is taking over the centre and that they feel "upset and devastated".

Staff had no idea of the plans until two weeks ago and are unlikely to find other jobs in the industry, the source says.

The source fears for the future of community events for the elderly and discounted rates for dance schools.

But Mr Atkinson says the RFA is keen to see established community relationships to continue.

He says the centre has always presented an "ambitious public programme" but it's operating in an increasing difficult, tight market.

"The long-term sustainability of the Bruce Mason Centre is the board's overriding goal and we are very pleased with the new formal partnership with RFA."

He says the board's future once RFA takes over is still under discussion.

RFA chief executive Robert Domm says he is enthusiastic about the closer working relationship.

"The centre will continue to operate and provide an important role for Auckland. There is much to be done and, in conjunction with the Bruce Mason board, we will help develop a sustainable business platform moving forward."

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