Not long after Westerner Park announced Agri-Trade would be held this November, ominous signs began to appear.
As organizers spoke to exhibitors and other attendees, it became clear that the pandemic and all of the health restrictions and safety-, travel- and gathering-related complications COVID-19 has spawned were going to be a problem.
“They were experiencing a bit more pressure internally themselves, whether it be through corporate policy, or with their staff teams and their ability to travel, even within Canada,” said Westerner Park CEO Mike Olesen.
“A number of exhibitors, unfortunately, needed to cancel for this year. And a number of sponsors as well had concerns.”
Olesen said it came down to weighing the risk that came with participating in one of the first big trade show-type events since gathering restrictions were eased.
“It did definitely develop quickly, but as the show became more of a reality, it became more real for groups that had to make that decision, which put us on that path as well.”
Going ahead in the current climate would have been financially risky for Westerner Park and likely for many exhibitors.
However, the biggest factor in opting to cancel was the risk that the show would not live up to its reputation as a premier event, said Olesen.
“Our No. 1 consideration was ensuring the value and the quality of the show that people expect could be maintained. And that was one of the factors that started to become quite concerning.
“I think we wanted to ensure that if this is to go, it needs to go at the level that everyone expects — and that’s from all angles: the quality of the show and the perceived safety as well,” he said.
The loss of the show is bad news for all of those who benefited from the $50 million in tourism spending by the nearly 30,000 people the event drew last year.
At Westerner Park, about 25 temporary layoffs became permanent last week. About 20 staff remain on the payroll, with help from a federal government wage subsidy program.
Olesen said while all involved were hopeful the show would go on, his financial planning was designed around it not happening.
“Obviously, it will have a massive impact, however, that said, it was in our plans that we might have to cancel, unfortunately. It’s not going to catch us off guard in terms of the current plan.”
The City of Red Deer provided Westerner Park with a $2-million loan in July, which is expected to get the organization through to next spring.