Recent layoffs at Westerner Park in Red Deer ‘a necessary evil,’ says CEO

Westerner Park’s CEO says recent layoffs have been “very challenging.”

On Tuesday, Westerner Park announced it requested support from the city, which has assumed temporary financial oversight over the non-profit organization as it deals with financial challenges.

Fourteen full-time staff and 24 part-time and casual staff were laid off on Monday, and a number of other staff members will see a reduction in hours and benefits.

“It’s a pretty significant decrease in staff, especially on a full-time basis. You’re probably looking at upwards of around 20 per cent. But it was unfortunately, a necessary evil,” CEO Mike Olesen said Thursday afternoon.

READ MORE: Westerner Park faces financial challenges

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It’s a challenge any time an organization has to lay off staff, said Olesen, who became Westerner Park’s CEO this past November.

“Even just the process to make that change is very difficult. It’s a significant draw on time, it takes resources to do it, and more importantly, it makes an impact to our culture,” he said.

“Not to mention the adjustments that everyone remaining has had to experience, from changes in benefits, to numbers of hours. It’s difficult because it’s not as if those staff were added for no reason at all.

“It’s not taken lightly, and the staff that are remaining are more motivated than ever to recover and do what it takes to make sure we represent our park well.”

Westerner is also currently renegotiating its Canadian Finals Rodeo contract with the Canadian Pro Rodeo Association.

“The challenge with this event is that is has a revenue problem,” said Olesen.

“There was no mistake in the budget for CFR, everything was operated as expected. Really, it just takes a significant amount of revenue, sellout crowds, a really strong sponsorship program and public support to get it into the model that it is.”

Olesen said the CFR’s transition from Edmonton to Red Deer was “expected to be a challenging one” for both Westerner and the CPRA.

“That’s a long-standing event for 44 years in Edmonton, and now you’re completely changing markets. If you look at the first year, planning effectively started in January for the October event.

“So just on a simple planning point of view and understanding, everything that goes on at the event, let alone a good budget, it was definitely a hill to climb.

“We’re working hard with the CPRA, and they’ve been very supportive, because they picked Red Deer for a reason. It’s a great market for this; it’s the right size, our facilities are top notch for what they need.”

Red Deer is a prime location for events, said Olesen, citing the Canada Winter Games and the upcoming 2021 IIHF World Junior Championships as examples.

“We need to rally together as a community to make sure these things are happening. Major events are about scale,” he said.

“It’s a matter of being that community participant in the conversation and making sure we’re facilitating more opportunities for major events, versus just sitting back and waiting for a very strong community group to get it done.

“That’s advantageous, but we can’t just sit back as Westerner Park and let them do all the work. That’s part of us participating in the right way.”

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