LEASING out the Orange Botanic Gardens function centre permanently, could go some way to foot the $50,000 it will cost Orange City Council to replace the ageing kitchen in the centre.
Council has called for expressions of interest from individuals and businesses to operate the Clover Hill function centre to combat the low usage which means it runs at a loss.
Council spokesman Nick Redmond said council was open to any ideas including moves to turn it into a private cafe or restaurant, but the community would still be able to use the centre at a peppercorn rate.
“It has quite low utilisation and once you factor in our staff time and other operational matters we run it at a loss,” he said.
“There’s also a requirement for capital works to replace the ovens and catering equipment with a price tag of $50,000 so before we embark on that we want to see if there’s interest to run it as a commercial venture.”
Friends of the Botanic Gardens president Dick Niven was initially stunned by the idea but said it could work provided it remained as a function centre.
“I can’t possibly see what good could come from it,” he said.
“I can’t see how they can make any money if someone is creaming off the top.”
But he said a move to lease out the council owned kiosk at Lake Canobolas proved it could be successful.
Mr Redmond said the function centre and the gardens are not used as often as people may think.
“The regular feedback we get is how fantastic the gardens are but quite often it’s pretty empty,” he said.
But Mr Niven disagreed saying the gardens were popular with people including dog walkers.
Botanic Gardens committee chair councillor Reg Kidd said leasing out the centre was a mixed bag for him but he said better use could generate more funds for maintenance.
He believes the function centre has not been promoted enough as a conference venue and the hire fee should remain affordable.
“I think that it’s absolutely critical the council are quite clear on the community expectation and the commercial expectations,” he said.
“The worse thing that could happen is if it becomes over priced and you get a decrease in use.”
Committee member councillor Neil Jones said the centres at most Botanic Gardens were maintained by private operators.
Fellow Friends of the Botanic Gardens member Libby West said the group would not have any objections to the function centre having a private cafe as long as it was done with sensitivity to the environment.