Tenancy turmoil as Marine Centre goes into voluntary administration

A bitter blow: Marine Discovery Centre manager Kerryn Wood with chair of the board Paul Whittock.
A bitter blow: Marine Discovery Centre manager Kerryn Wood with chair of the board Paul Whittock.

The Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre has closed its doors after going into voluntary administration on September 28.

The move follows a traumatic week for the board of the centre and its sub-tenants in the surrounding building after Crown Lands served a notice of breach of lease and notice to repair for the wharf building in Eden. The notice gave 28 days to rectify all repairs or the Crown Lease would be terminated.

The building is known to be a problem through its age and non-compliance with current day standards; the current lease only runs until November 2022. It has been the subject of redevelopment discussions for several years but without any details for the tenants about how and when it might happen.

Once the notice was issued there was no way we could deal with it financially. If we tried to go on we would put ourselves and our sub-tenants at risk. If anything happened we would have had no protection; we had to act quickly.

Paul Whittock, chair of the board of the Marine Discovery Centre

The Marine Discovery Centre as the head lessee was responsible for maintenance and Stan Soroka, who was chair of the board for several years, said all fire safety issues were addressed at the time the centre took over the lease, and the building was inspected annually to ensure compliance.

The notice came "completely out of left field" current chair of the board of the Centre Paul Whittock said.

He explained that given the year the area had suffered with bushfires and the pandemic, the Centre was not in a financial position to undertake the repairs and neither had it expected to be placed in that position.

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"Once the notice was issued there was no way we could deal with it financially. If we tried to go on we would put ourselves and our sub-tenants at risk. If anything happened we would have had no protection; we had to act quickly," Mr Whittock said.

"We are no longer the landlord, the administrator has taken on that responsibility. The tenants will be allowed to trade at the behest of the administrator," Mr Whittock said.

But the administrator will not be taking on the lease, sitting between the company it is administrating and the various governments involved. The situation raises questions over the Marine Centre's assets including live specimens which cannot be returned to the ocean, Mr Whittock said.

The board said its legal advisors tried unsuccessfully to discuss the matter with Bega MP Andrew Constance last week.

Mr Constance's office said that a meeting was trying to be arranged between him, NSW Property Minister Melinda Pavey and Mr Whittock as chair of the board but now any such meeting will need to be with the administrators instead.

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