Legal row puts Astor in spotlight

The future of the Astor Theatre as a performance venue is in doubt because of a legal dispute over extending the lease at the popular Mt Lawley venue.

A five-year lease over the heritage-listed Art Deco theatre expires on September 1.

Landlord Bruno Zimmermann and tenant Astor WA P/L, a company involving promoters Ken and Chris Knight, are contesting the legality of an option to extend the lease for another five years.

"There is a disagreement about whether the five-year extension of the lease has been validly requested and Astor wants those five years," Chris Knight's lawyer David Vilensky said.

The case is listed for a hearing before Supreme Court Justice John Chaney on August 28.

About 100 acts have been booked for next year. The diverse line-up includes Marina Prior, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Ball Park Music, Hot Chocolate, Joan Armatrading and the Perth International Comedy Festival.

Mr Zimmermann had no intention the Astor should stop operating as a performance venue after September 1, his lawyer James Steedman said.

If the judge determined the tenant's lease expired next month, Mr Zimmermann would continue to run the Astor as a performance venue under new management and take great steps to ensure the public was not affected, Mr Steedman said.

The matter has been complicated by a rift between the Knight brothers, with Chris Knight launching a "derivative" Supreme Court action against Ken Knight and fellow Astor WA director Robert Denman.

The directors were split over whether to continue running the Astor under the renewed lease at all, Mr Vilensky said.

Justice Chaney this week granted Chris Knight permission to proceed on behalf of Astor with the case against Zimmermann Investments P/L.

Mr Vilensky said he would seek an injunction to allow Astor to remain in possession of the Astor Theatre until the lease-extension case had been finalised.

The dispute has flared at an uncertain time for live music venues in Perth, with the fate of the Fly by Night Musicians Club in the balance and the imminent sale of The Bakery in Northbridge. The public voted the Astor as Perth's best live music venue at the 2013 WA Music Awards.

Mr Zimmermann bought the Astor in 1996, when it was under threat of being turned into a supermarket, and applied for it to be heritage-listed.

He spent $1 million on renovations and ran it as a cinema until dwindling audiences led him to close the venue in 2008. He leased it to the current tenants in 2009.

The West Australian

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