The government is to explore options to outsource the running of the Villa Marina and Gaiety Theatre to a commercial operator.
But Economic Development Minister Laurence Skelly stressed that both venues would remain in public ownership.
Expressions of interest will be sought from June this year from parties interested in managing and operating the complex.
Mr Skelly MHK said: ‘At this stage we are testing the market to establish what interest there is in running both venues.
‘We are mindful that the indications are that outsourcing operations could greatly reduce the financial contribution that the taxpayer currently makes through the budget allocated to operate the two venues.’
He said the move follows the recommendations of the Scope of Government review that the Villa Marina and the Gaiety Theatre could be operated more effectively by contracting them out.
‘Since my department took over responsibility for the Villa Gaiety complex in April 2014 we have taken further steps to identify what would be the most appropriate way forward that would optimise the commercial potential of the two venues while at the same time keeping them in government ownership,’ he added.
Questions about the Villa Marina and Gaiety were raised in the House of Keys this week by Douglas West MHK Chris Thomas.
The heavily-subsidised complex’s net budget (operating costs minus revenue) has actually increased from £1,349,700 in 2014/15, including £625,000 of loan charges, to £1,489,700 this year, including £765,200 of loan charges.
But Mr Skelly told MHKs it had come in under budget for the fifth successive year.
The Minister iomtoday he did not know what level of interest there would be from commercial operators. He said the complex would continue to be subsidised to a degree by the taxpayer.
He said new opportunities would open up for commercial operators particularly for daytime use of the facilities for conferences and corporate hospitality.
The complex employs 20 to 30 full-time staff plus casual staff.
Mr Skelly said that although outsourcing is being considered, this was no reflection on the good work that the staff at the Villa Marina and Gaiety Theatre have done over the past few years.
‘The staff will be kept regularly informed throughout and we will also be communicating with unions and key regular users of both venues to update them on progress,’ he said, adding that the process would be ‘open and transparent’.
Mr Skelly said consideration had been given to ‘de-coupling’ the two venues, with a social enterprise trust running the Gaiety. But this option had been ruled out as not viable because there were a lot of shared services.
In the Keys, he said that coming in under budget had been achieved through a range of improvements.
He said the complex now has approval to hold civil wedding ceremonies. Overall attendances had totalled over 200,000, with ticket sales over £2.2m. The Royal Hall is very close to capacity for Friday and Saturdays throughout the year.
Future plans include more live streaming, growing the corporate business, upgrading audio-visual equipment and re-seating the cinema.