THE manager of a Portsmouth arts centre has accused Portsmouth City Council of trying to shut it down, possibly to make way for a cafe in a central city park.
Mark Lewis, who runs The Lodge Arts Centre in Victoria Park, says the council put up his rent by 110 per cent over three years in an effort to price out the not-for-profit operation.
He said: ‘One theory is that they want to close The Lodge and start a cafe there.
‘We’ve been effectively blacklisted from any council commissions for years.’
Mr Lewis said the council should support The Lodge as it did other artistic enterprises such as Aspex.
His team is behind public art projects including a mural of Portsea Island at the Clarendon Road-Waverley Road roundabout in Southsea.
He said he had obtained copies of council e-mails claiming he badly prepped the wall behind two two murals in Southsea which led to them quickly flaking.
He said the prep work for the murals – an older mural of Portsea Island and on the hoardings of Harry Redknapp’s former Savoy site – wasn’t done by his artists.
Mr Lewis said the council had also tried to change the usage class of the building from ‘arts centre with cafe and office’ to just ‘cafe’, and disallowed an alcohol clause, leading to a loss of bar takings.
He said: ‘It’s a very difficult job to try to keep this place running, let along with a hindrance from the council.’
Council solicitor Michael Lawther said the rent rise was ‘based on what’s commercially achievable.’
He said: ‘Because it isn’t a licensed premise the rent reflects this.
‘Mark Lewis has been successful in the past in securing at least three public art commissions, but he appears to be disappointed to not have won them all.
‘When he was shortlisted, but ultimately not chosen, this was due to external funding criteria, not the council’s.’
Cllr Lee Hunt said The Lodge had received nothing but support from himself and the council.
He said: ‘I readily have agreed every time he asked to increase his activity there, for example by allowing tables and chairs outside to increase income for what he does.’
Cllr Hunt said he was not aware of any plans to replace The Lodge with a cafe.