Council debates merits of costly conference

The City of Red Deer will bid to host the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference even though it won’t have enough higher-quality hotel rooms required to hold such a conference.

The City of Red Deer will bid to host the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference even though it won’t have enough higher-quality hotel rooms required to hold such a conference.

Red Deer city council voted 5-3 on Monday in favour of applying to hold the FCM conference in 2015 — an annual event drawing about 2,000 municipal politicians and senior management from across Canada. The city estimates its bid will cost anywhere from $6,500 to $9,000, money that would come from the 2009 Land and Economic Development budget surplus.

The bid deadline is Aug. 19.

If the bid is successful, the cost to host the several-day event will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Calgary hosted one in 2007 and it cost just over $535,000.

Toronto has budgeted up to $450,000 for its event next year.

Mayor Morris Flewwelling said the costs are huge because additional staff must be hired.

“We would be hiring contract staff for promotion and publicity and some of the local events,” said Flewwelling, who supported the event for the huge economic spinoffs it would bring to the community.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates the conference and municipal expo (trade show) would inject $4.5 million to $6 million into the host community’s economy.

Councillors Cindy Jefferies, Gail Parks, Larry Pimm and Lorna Watkinson-Zimmer approved the bid as well.

“I think it’s a risk worth taking,” said Parks. “It will bring millions of dollars to businesses and increase our profile.”

Councillors Tara Veer, Lynne Mulder and Frank Wong disagreed.

Veer wondered why the city would invest time, energy and staff resources to a proposal that doesn’t even meet all of the criteria.

“Obviously, we’re all proud of our community,” she said. “FCM has very rigourous criteria in terms of hotel rooms, restaurants and convention facilities. . . why would we do this when we know we’re not going to be successful?”

Red Deer meet many of the criteria, but is lacking when it comes to accommodation. The city must have 1,800 hotel rooms within the area which are at least “three diamond” by Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) standards.

The Red Deer region has more than 2,300 rooms, but only 940 of them would carry the “three diamond” classification and this includes two additional hotels to be built in Gasoline Alley.

Mulder said the conference will be good for businesses, but costly for taxpayers.

“I don’t think every taxpayer would be thrilled to have a half per cent tax increase, which I believe it would be if we do it,” Mulder said. “I wouldn’t mind starting with an AUMA (Alberta Urban Municipalities Association) conference, which is smaller.”

Pimm said later the event is six years away, so the city would be in a “better position” to meet the number of rooms required.

He also wonders if smaller host communities, like St. John’s, were given some leniency when it came to hotel quality. The room he stayed in there was “very ordinary.”

“If we don’t get the bid for 2015 . . . we’ve at least rung the bell. Sooner or later, it should come to Red Deer.”

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