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More financial info on River Bend sought by Red Deer city council after another loan deferral request

Perhaps the repayment terms can’t be met, some councillors suggest
Red Deer city council will look at measures to reduce financial pressure on River Bend Golf and Recreation Area as plans are made for its future. (Advocate file photo)

Several Red Deer city councillors suggested it’s high time to revisit the repayment terms for a nearly 20-year outstanding loan for the expansion of the River Bend Golf Course clubhouse.

While council gave first reading on Monday to a bylaw that would push back the next loan repayment to 2024 instead of the end of this year, they were troubled by the lack of payments made over the years.

This was the fourth deferral requested by River Bend’s non-profit society.

In 2004, the operators were given a $1.7 million loan from the city for a clubhouse renovation/expansion project. But the society has only made a couple of repayments.

So far, council heard about $125,000 of the loan has been repaid, with more than $1.5 million still owing.

“There is still quite a bit of the principal remaining,” said the city’s chief financial officer Ray MacIntosh, who noted that for every year loan repayments are deferred, another year will be added on to the repayment schedule.

“We still expect repayment of the loan in full,” he added.

Several city councillors suggested that it was time to delve into the financial records of River Bend Golf Course to determine whether the loan repayment schedule made in 2004 was fair — or even possible.

Coun. Vesna Higham, the city’s representative on the River Bend Board, said after talking to society members about revenues, she wonders if there was ever enough capacity to repay this loan.

The City of Red Deer owns everything at River Bend — the land, the clubhouse and all the amenities. So Higham questioned why a non-profit board, tasked with operating the facility, was ever asked to repay this loan? She noted the city never asked the YMCA to pay for the construction of the Northside Community Centre, which it operates.

Coun. Kraymer Barnstable believes different repayment terms are clearly needed since the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.

He and other councillors want to know more about River Bend’s revenues — which they want to be a matter of public record, and not just obtainable through a Freedom of Information request.

If the deferral bylaw gets council’s final approval on Nov. 21, Red Deer’s River Bend Golf Course could get another two years to come up with the next repayment on the 18-year-old loan. Meanwhile, a new proposed Master Plan for River Bend’s future development will be presented to councillors on Nov. 7, which could help shape this decision.

MacIntosh told council the delay in the loan repayment is not ideal, but that the city can manage.

Financial constraints, due to fluctuating golf course usage, had been cited as one reason for the loan payments needing to be deferred. In 2019, the city ordered a financial and operational review of the River Bend Golf and Recreation Area, which was impacted by the pandemic.

This fall, online public input on the future of River Bend was collected as part of the new Master Plan process.

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