A sustainability audit for Westerner Park suggested 33 changes, including more city involvement. (Advocate file photo)

33 changes suggested to make Red Deer’s Westerner Park financially successful again

Modernizing business practices, creating a foundation are among them

Improved co-ordination between the City of Red Deer and Westerner Park are among a list of recommendations to get the non-profit agricultural society back on its feet again.

A sustainability study by Deloitte provided suggestions about how to improve operations at the cash-strapped Westerner Park going forward.

Although Deloitte partner Jeremy Webster cautioned that the unknown duration of the COVID-19 pandemic still leaves a lot of questions about whether planned events can go ahead, he said changes can allow the Westerner Exhibition Association to “move through challenging times and seize opportunities.”

After studying the governance and operation models of dozens of societies that run fairgrounds across Canada, Deloitte recommended that the association continue as a non-profit organization and agriculture society.

Certain government grants and other benefits are available to non-profits that operate at length from municipalities, Webster noted.

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However, 35 recommendations were provided to address Westerner Park’s cash shortfall, which was caused by declining revenues and increased costs, including the construction of a new pavilion, and the onset of the pandemic.

Many of the recommendations focus on modernizing business practices, refocusing on the association’s strength in delivering major events, establishing an arm’s-length foundation to engage the community, supporting long-term capital investment, and refocusing on Westerner Park’s agricultural roots and volunteerism.

Deloitte also recommended that the City of Red Deer partner with the association to provide more expertise in the area of maintaining the facilities through a proactive, planned upgrading.

The auditor also suggested that, rather than having Westerner Park, the city’s economic development department, Tourism Red Deer and several groups do their own bits of marketing, there should be a co-ordinated regional approach to help draw tourists and more attractions to the area.

While the Deloitte report provides a starting point for the Westerner Exhibition Association in moving forward, council was warned the road ahead will be long. But by making some changes, Westerner Park can become sustainable, it said.

Editor’s note: This article was edited on Nov. 3 to reflect the number of recommendations in the report.

Red Deer City Council