THE founder of an arts cafe says it could be forced to close because of a council rent hike.
Mark Lewis claims that by raising the annual charge from £4,500 to £10,000 Portsmouth City Council could put the not-for-profit Lodge Arts Centre, in Victoria Park, out of business.
The council argues it is only bringing the property in line with other commercial ventures such as the Canoe Lake Cafe in Southsea.
But Mr Lewis said this does not take into account the cultural and community benefits of the centre.
He said: ‘Considering how much work our volunteers have put into restoring the building and supporting the centre over the last 10 years, we strongly feel the proposed increase in rent is not only unfair but wholly unrealistic.
‘We focus on underprivileged areas of the city that have little or no real contact with the arts, without funding and relying on voluntary contributions.’
Conservative group spokesman for culture, Cllr Jim Fleming, supported the centre, saying: ‘If this is a commercial venture it is no different from the Pyramids and we pump millions into that. For such a small amount of money it would be disastrous to lose a community facility like this in one of the prettiest parts of the city.’
Cllr Lee Hunt, responsible for culture issues, said the centre had been revalued ‘to reflect current market conditions’, adding that ‘the owners are being treated exactly the same as all other cafe owners who rent from the council’.
‘The Lodge is being rented by a private company who has secured its use as a cafe since the last rent review in 2001,’ he added.
‘The Lodge itself is entirely owned by city taxpayers and I’m sure they expect the council to secure a fair rent in return.’