Many Red Deerians have been pushing for city council to make a decision on Westerner Park financing, says Coun. Buck Buchanan.
Buchanan tried to make a motion during Monday’s council meeting to get the matter back on the table for discussion. “What I’ve heard from some folks is the urgency of the time frame,” he said, at the start of the meeting.
But Mayor Tara Veer responded that a special council meeting will be held about Westerner Park’s finances within the next two weeks — a quicker turnaround than the month-long tabling that was approved by the majority of council on April 22. Only councillors Michael Dawe and Dianne Wyntjes had voted against this.
Veer believes this will provide enough time to get council the requested additional information from administration, while still allowing for a loan application to be submitted to the province.
The city manager and chief financial officer had previously expressed concern about the tabling of up to four weeks, saying that a provincial loan request had to be submitted before July, otherwise the next window of opportunity would be in December, with Westerner Park’s expenses left in limbo.
Buchanan said on Tuesday that he had also heard from about half a dozen citizens who believe council needs to take action on this as soon as possible.
The Red Deer Chamber of Commerce sent this message to city council, as has Lyn Radford, a community volunteer and advocate, who was board chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer.
“What we need right now is council members to host a special meeting immediately,” said Radford in an opinion piece for the Advocate.
She stressed Westerner Park has been a valuable resource for 130 years, both through financial contributions to the area, and by providing a myriad of community experiences.
“I sincerely hope the decision will be to support… the community-run Westerner board, volunteers, and staff. We are in need of some strong leadership,” Radford added.
While the amount of money being considered for Westerner Park is “huge” — city council was asked to approve a $3 million grant to get the pandemic-stricken exhibition grounds through to the end of 2021, and then a $19 million loan to be repaid over 30 years — Buchanan said most people he’s heard from support this infusion to help keep Westerner Park going.
The large loan would replace an unsustainable loan from CIBC that was taken to cover the cost of a new exhibition hall, which was build during a prolonged recession, and under over-optimistic revenue projections made by a past Westerner Park CEO.
Buchanan said he now fully appreciates the tight timelines involved in this situation, and agrees with those who want to see council make a timely decision on financing the exhibition grounds.