New exhibition hall and rodeo shortfalls key to Westerner Park financial troubles: auditor

New exhibition hall and rodeo shortfalls key to Westerner Park financial troubles: auditor

City council will review full audit report on Tuesday

An ambitious exhibition hall expansion and overly optimistic Canadian Finals Rodeo revenue expectations were key causes of Westerner Park’s financial troubles, says a forensic audit report.

Auditors also identified deficiencies in financial controls, a lack of qualified finance staff and failure to market the exhibition hall expansion properly as contributors to Westerner Park’s money woes.

Tackling multiple projects at the same time, changes to the board’s governance, lack of communication on the board and a decision to tap a maintenance fund also played roles.

All of these issues were happening at a time when Alberta’s economy was struggling because of the continuing oil and gas downturn and other challenges.

The City of Red Deer ordered the third-party financial audit after it assumed control of the non-profit organization and agricultural society’s operations earlier this year.

The city wanted to know if any misappropriation had taken place during the $18-million exhibition hall construction and to get a detailed review of Westerner Park’s business decisions, including the successful bid to host the rodeo finals.

“While the report is very detailed and requires a thorough review and analysis, we have concluded there was no fraudulent activity or misappropriation on behalf of Westerner Park,” said city manager Allan Seabrooke in a statement Friday.

City council will get a look at the audit at a special meeting Tuesday.

“This forensic audit, along with the financial sustainability report, are critical components as council and administration consider a long-term, sustainable future for Westerner Park,” said Seabrooke.

“While this forensic audit does not necessarily provide recommendations, it is the first step towards developing a more sustainable future for Westerner Park,” said Seabrooke.

Westerner Park first told the city about its financial struggles and asked for assistance last December. The city, which owns the land Westerner Park is located on, leases it to the organization under a 50-year agreement.

In January, the city assumed temporary oversight of Westerner Park and has provided financial help, including an emergency $1-million operating grant in February and a $2-million loan approved last July, which is expected to keep the operation going until next spring.

To make ends meet, Westerner Park has had to lay off most of its staff. In January, 14-full-time and 24 part-time and casual staff were laid off.

In March, 90 per cent of the remaining staff were temporarily laid off because of the financial situation, greatly exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has meant the cancellation of hundreds of events, including the Canadian Finals Rodeo, Westerner Days, World Junior Hockey Championships and the Agri-Trade Equipment Expo.

After the temporary layoffs were recently made permanent, 16 staff remain, many with reduced work hours.

In better times, Westerner Park generated an estimated $150 million in local economic activity.

Westerner Park

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

FILE - A firefighter wears a mask as he drives his truck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward, File
Flames rip through Edmonton-area seniors complex, but no fatalities

ST. ALBERT, Alta. — Fire has destroyed part of a retirement complex… Continue reading

FILE - This file photo provided by Leonid Volkov and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, right, are seen in Germany in a Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, handout photo published to social media. The chief of staff to the imprisoned Russian president critic Alexei Navalny is calling on Ottawa to impose new sanctions on who he descripted as “Vladimir Putin’s oligarchs.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, Leonid Volkov
Canada must sanction Vladimir Putin’s oligarchs: Alexei Navalny’s chief of staff

Navalny was arrested on Jan. 17 upon returning from Germany

Alberta Health Services locked the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror on Wednesday morning after owner Christopher Scott refused to comply with health orders. (Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff)
UPDATED: AHS shuts down Whistle Stop Cafe for defying health orders

Justice minister promises to get tough with those ignoring public health orders

Max Parrot of Canada competes in the men’s snowboard big air final at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018. Parrot has won the Comeback of the Year honour at the Laureus World Sports Awards. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canadian snowboarder Max Parrot wins Laureus World Sports Award for comeback

Parrot beat out former Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith

This Nov. 22, 2015 file photo shows Justin Bieber at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles. Bieber’s world tour is facing another setback as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. The Stratford, Ont.-raised pop singer is pushing dozens of tour dates including stops in three Canadian cities.	THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File
Justin Bieber postpones Canadian summer tour dates until 2022

52-date world tour will now kick off Feb. 18, 2022

LtE bug
Letter: Security company can help with shelter

Why don’t we leave Safe Harbour temporary shelter where it is and… Continue reading

LtE bug
Letter: Good job on K-6 curriculum

Many are questioning the quality of the draft K-6 curriculum. It amazes… Continue reading

Treena Mielke
COVID becomes all too real when someone you love is ‘positive’

The third wave of the pandemic is hitting us hard. It is… Continue reading

Wizards beat Raptors in OT, Toronto playoff bid nearly over

Wizards beat Raptors in OT, Toronto playoff bid nearly over

Most Read