Westerner Park’s future hangs on a series of tough decisions Red Deer city council must make this spring and summer, says Mayor Tara Veer.
“Our financial oversight of Westerner Park is in the public interest,” said Veer on Tuesday. “We are trying to preserve options for its future.”
The exhibition and fair grounds sit on city land, which is why it was necessary for the city to assume financial control of Westerner Park when it got into financial trouble last December, she explained.
“The city is the land owner. It’s a public asset.”
While the city has a lease agreement with the Westerner Park board, there are also some contracts with the provincial government.
Veer described it as a “complex web of agreements” that required some legal context — which is why city councillors had a private briefing on Monday from legal advisers.
Veer expects the first decisions about Westerner Park will have to be made in an open city council meeting in 30 to 60 days.
After that, the park’s finances will become an ongoing council concern, she predicted, requiring a series of difficult decisions to be made throughout the summer.
These will determine short- and long-term support for Westerner Park’s operating deficit and debt load.
Veer expects a forensic and operating audit that was ordered by the city on the park’s finances to be done before the end of June, and said council will be basing its decisions on these “comprehensive” results.
The latest blow to Westerner Park’s financial prospects was dealt last month, with a provincial announcement that all large summer fairs will be cancelled to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Veer said this deepened the financial difficulties caused by previous business decisions by Westerner Park’s board — including “expanding too fast” during what’s turned out to be a prolonged recession.
“It has exacerbated the conditions they were already grappling with.”
If the Westerner Days fair had been allowed to proceed in July, the now cancelled event would have drawn thousands of fair-goers and been a significant revenue generator for the park.
“With Westerner Park being in the financial circumstances it is in, there will be ongoing challenges for council,” Veer predicted.