The Sky City brand is about to be moved off the Embassy Theatre, not that it’s ever been very noticeable. The Auckland casino operators have sold their cinema circuit to an Australian company, who’ll be taking over all the Sky City cinemas including the Embassy.
But the Dominion Post was wrong last week when it reported that the Australians will be buying the heritage building. What they’ll be getting is Sky City’s lease of the cinema. The landmark 1920s building – with tenants including the International Film Festival – is not part of the deal, because the Embassy is owned by the city. The council took over ownership in 2003 in return for spending several million dollars to complete restoration of the cinema for the world premiere of The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King.
A Trust, led by the visionary Hutt lawyer Bill Sheat, had been working since 1996 to save the neglected building and restore it as a permanent home for the Wellington Film Festival. Along with its eagerness for a red carpet event, the city got a good deal: all the tenancies were signed up, and there was annual income of $100,000 from the two billboards on top of the building.
But for the last six months, the council hasn’t been earning this revenue. The billboards – in a prime position overlooking Courtenay Place – have been empty since May. Which is hard to understand when billboards in lesser positions are all being used. The screen between the billboards isn’t carrying any advertising either, though it was also a reliable source of revenue when the council took over.
The subject of these lost earnings came up a day or two ago when a friend phoned the Dominion Post to ask about advertising. When he was told that the cost of a full page is more than $11,000, he gave up his plans to advertise, and instead turned his thoughts to the council’s weekly full page advertisement – which regularly overflows to a page and a half. Even with a reduction for repeat business, the council will be paying a high price to deliver its weekly messages to the segment of ratepayers who read the newspaper. Which brings us back to the Embassy. If the council was earning money from the billboards, you could argue that this would help pay for the weekly extravagance. Let’s guess that it would pay for ten of them anyway.
Surely the council hasn’t become blasé about the need to earn income whenever it can? Revenue of $100,000 isn’t to be sneezed at.
Unless, of course, it thinks that revenue is unimportant. The frequency of its slogan on the big screen between the billboards suggests there’s been a decision not to seek paying advertisers, but just to advertise … the council.