A fiery debate between all stakeholders in the Kempsey Cinema project unfolded at the final meeting of Kempsey Shire Council on December 19.
Advocates and objectors of the Kempsey Cinema project, which has been progressing since 2013, included protesters brandishing bright, yellow signs, local school students, the CEO of Majestic Cinemas, general manager of Gowings Bros and Councillors who gathered in the Kempsey Shire Council chambers for the last council meeting of 2017.
Councillors and attendees will keep their comments respectful or I will enforce a point of order.
There was heckling, interruptions, passionate statements made from all parties and many calls for “order” in the proceedings – all of which point to the significance of the cinema project for all stakeholders.
- Kempsey Cinema sentiment statistics revealed
- Kempsey gets a cinema
- Kempsey cinema’s Public Private Partnership rejected
- Councillors butt heads to reach final decision on Kempsey Cinema
CEO of Majestic Cinemas Kieren Dell addressed objector’s ongoing concerns about the large size of the cinema, why the Bandbox has been considered an unfeasible investment, and discussed plans to build the complex to cater for live entertainment events.
Kempsey is a stagnant town. Whenever we have a chance to improve the town, people step back and say ‘no I don’t like change'.
How the debate went down
Speaker 1: Renea Rootes
The first speaker to address council was a Kempsey Shire local and leader of a campaign against the Kempsey Cinema, Renea Rootes. Ms Rootes argued that council has failed to “listen to the people” and that there are a range of other infrastructures in the Macleay Valley that would be better invested in for the purpose of driving local business growth.
We’ve had generations of our families here in Kempsey whose rates payed for the assets council has sold to source this $2 million.
“In the past weeks I’ve had many talks with young people, local businesses, members of the community and people I’ve met for the first time,” she said.
“I’ve started a change.org petition against the cinema and handed out petition papers on the streets to which we have received more than 1800 signatures.
Thank you for representing a very small proportion of Kempsey.
“This council was elected by the people to work for the people, yet they are not listening to the people. Why is this pathway being taken, when a previous report on the cinema project deemed it unviable? We need to not invest in big white elephants, and stop trying to compete with nearby areas like Port Macquarie - the Macleay is not Port Macquarie - we have our own unique features that must be capitalised on. I ask you to listen to the people of Kempsey who clearly do not support this.”
Applause erupted from supporters as Ms Rootes closed her speech. She then handed popcorn to the Councillors as a symbolic gesture and also presented the petitions collected.
“Thank you Renea for representing a very small proportion of Kempsey,” councillor Anthony Patterson responded, to which Ms Rootes’ supporters retaliated with disapproval.
Mayor Liz Campbell warned both Councillors and attendees to keep their comments respectful.
We need to invest in infrastructure for the unique features of the Macleay
Speakers 2 and 3: Lynne Whitmore and Pat Huckstepp
Up next, was Macleay Valley resident Lynne Whitmore who said she supported the idea of a cinema, just not under the current project plans. Ms Whitmore argued the Bandbox should be invested in to support theatre productions in the local community and also act as a cinema.
“We need to invest in infrastructure for the unique features of the Macleay to encourage more businesses to come into Kempsey. My husband and I ran the pool for 18 years - we could have used a bit of this money to fix up that infrastructure for people,” she said.
Macleay resident Pat Huckstepp spoke next, criticising the council for selling assets “that were paid for by the rates our parents and grandparents provided.” Ms Huckstepp also called for further investment into the Bandbox.
“The government has stopped you from doing this – saying the project is not viable,” Ms Huckstepp said.
“We own the Bandbox - it’s a beautiful place - this $2 million could go into fixing up the Bandbox and building another complex for a games room for our young people.
During the holidays, on a Friday night, local kids are often left wondering what to do - we should endorse this excellent project.
Speaker 4: Year 12 St Paul’s College student
Next, a Year 12 student of St Paul’s College Kempsey addressed the council praising the cinema project.
“I am here as a proud supporter of the Kempsey cinema and want to share the general consensus among some of the younger members of this town,” he said.
“We are excited. Kempsey community lacks a social hub, and my friends and I regularly travel to Port Macquarie to see movies, shop and eat. The Kempsey cinema would change that - it would provide a place for young people to hang out with friends, watch a movie, have a thick shake and a feed.
We all want the same thing for Kempsey - you, we, everyone has to get on the front foot.
“During the holidays, on a Friday night, local kids are often left wondering what to do - we should endorse this excellent project as it will create a vibrant hub for individuals to enjoy themselves.”
“Kempsey is a stagnant town. Whenever we have a chance to improve the town, people step back and say ‘no I don’t like change’.”
“The government has invested its own money into this project - proving that it is a viable venture.”
Proponents of the project applauded.
Gowings Bros presentation
Following speeches from the public, general manager and company secretary at Gowings Bros Garth Grundy discussed the organisation’s investment in the project.
“I think both sides want to see what’s best for Kempsey. If the cinema project was a bad idea, Gowings would not be investing in it and neither would the government or Majestic Cinemas,” he said.
“In 2013, when we first started looking at this project, foot traffic in the town centre of Kempsey was on a downward spiral.
We are really focusing on using cinemas as multipurpose venues.
“A cinema cannot stand on its own - it works well on the shopping centre to create a social hub. If you want a cinema that lasts 10 years and more and brings more people to Kempsey - fixing up the Bandbox is not the solution. Everyone wants a pool, a better road, etc and no one is saying that can’t happen.”
Mr Grundy said that although the local population is 30,000, the large amount of tourists that visit the Macleay make the cinema a viable project.
“With a local population of 30,000 a commercial cinema would not be viable. But with 600,000 tourist visitor nights into the shire, the cinema has a real chance of being commercially successful,” he said.
“The cinema will have a multiplier effect on surrounding businesses which will in-turn help to create jobs, encourage business growth and all of this at no ongoing cost to rate payers or any risks to the council.
“We all want the same thing for Kempsey - you, we, everyone has to get on the front foot.”
Majestic Cinemas presentation
Next, CEO of Majestic Cinemas Kieren Dell addressed objector’s concerns that the cinema is too large and provided a response to questions about the Bandbox. He also disclosed plans to build the complex to cater for live entertainment events.
“In order to make this a long-term initiative that will last for 10, 20, 30 and more years, the cinema needs to be modern to be able to provide a standard that digital consumers are demanding in the age of Netflix.
“A population size of 30k indicates that four screens of different sizes are needed as this enables the screening of a wider range of content from blockbusters to arthouse movies.
“Nambucca has had 3 screens for around 20 years with a 20k population.”
“Port Macquarie has five screens with a population of 60k but to be honest - it needs eight or nine screens.
Mr Dell said the cinema will also support special events like the travelling film festival, comedy shows, live theatre events, opera, Andre Rieu and more.
“Auditoriums will also be availble for hire to the local community and business groups in non-peak times,” he said.
“For example in the Port cinema we have a comedian coming to the cinema to perform - we are really focusing on using cinemas as multipurpose venues.
“Netflix has changed the game and is why Kempsey needs a modern complex, not a re-fashioned complex,” Mr Dell said.
Kempsey Shire Council will notify the community when the VPA (the agreement between Gowings Bros, Kempsey Shire Council and Majestic Cinemas) is on public display. The public will have a minimum of 28 days to view and make submissions on the VPA.