CEO of financially strapped Westerner Park expresses ‘confidence’ in board

CEO says he’s confident the board is now turning things around

Westerner Park CEO Mike Olesen is confident the board of directors that oversaw the facility as it plunged into financial difficulties is already in the process of turning things around.

Under the board’s direction, Westerner Park embarked in 2018 upon a costly building project during a tough economy — a factor that led the City of Red Deer to temporarily take over financial oversight of the facility last month.

But Olesen said many issues led Westerner Park into difficulties, not just the construction of a 70,000-square-foot multi-use space that was reported to have cost $15 million.

In hindsight, the timing of the investment was off. But Olesen, who only became the park’s CEO in November, noted there was more optimism that the economy would improve two years ago.

If it had brightened, he said, “ambitious decisions” wouldn’t have created problems.

“I still have confidence in the board,” he maintained.

Olesen believes board members have taken responsibility, and have “made some good decision in the last year and a half. A lot of changes were made to correct the situation.”

On Thursday, Olesen met with Canadian Finals Rodeo officials to renegotiate the CFR’s contract with Westerner Park. He left sensing more favourable terms will be achieved and that the CFR rodeo will continue in Red Deer this fall.

While he feels the top priority is stabilizing finances by bringing down operating expenses — staff layoffs and shutting down the park’s on-site catering service are some measures taken — the next step will be exploring revenue-boosting opportunities.

Olesen said the park will be on the look out for more entertainment and cultural attractions, as well as agricultural events.

He also isn’t giving up on trying to draw more concerts here, although many artists are performing fewer small-city shows these days.

Varied and alternative touring acts, whether Celtic, illusionists or kids’ shows, are also on the table.

“We want to make sure we have diverse offerings, not the same flavour shows.”

But Olesen feels more caution is needed to ensure that Westerner Park is not left open to financial loss if ticket sales are low.

As far as sports go, “we are fully committed to the Red Deer Rebels” hockey team, he stressed. “The Rebels are our primary, core business.”

The City of Red Deer is planning an in-depth, independent audit of Westerner Park’s finances to assess the situation.

Mayor Tara Veer stated in her recent Advocate column that she cannot speculate whether its financial situation will impact taxpayers until the audit wraps up. There is no time line for its completion.

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