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Red Deer County should do more to financially support Westerner Park: shareholder

Michael Donlevy is disappointed by the county’s refusal of a $1M grant request
Pony chuckwagon events have been part of Westerner Days in the past. The 2021 fair is still anticipated to go ahead in some form, but Westerner Park organizers are still waiting for confirmation of Stage 3 reopening in Alberta. (Advocate file photo)

The County of Red Deer is “conspicuously absent” from helping Westerner Park overcome its financial troubles, said a shareholder of the exhibition society.

At Westerner Park’s annual general meeting on Thursday, Michael Donlevy said he would ask a “contentious question” about the county’s refusal to grant $1 million towards replacing the ice plant at the Centrium arena.

This funding request from Westerner Park was unanimously declined at Tuesday’s Red Deer County council meeting because it was not agriculture-related and the county didn’t have enough reserves for such a large ask.

“I’m disappointed it was turned down,” said Donlevy, who noted that while the City of Red Deer has helped Westerner Park substantially — providing $22 million in financing to get the non-profit back in the black — the county has been “conspicuous in its absence.”

Yet, county residents do not only use parts of the exhibition grounds that pertain directly to agriculture, he added.


- Red Deer County turns down $1M request

Westerner Park CEO Mike Olesen responded that he respects county council’s decision.

“The county has always been publicly… verbally supportive of Westerner Park and have (indicated) they will continue to support us,” he added, so future funding requests could be made to the county that are more directly related to agriculture, aligning with its rural programs and goals.

Replacing the Centrium’s ice plant, a $2 million project, isn’t imminently needed, said Olesen, who added a Westerner Park Foundation is being formed to fundraise for various fundraising needs, including these kinds of infrastructure upgrades.

Earlier in the meeting, auditors from Pivotal LLP presented financial statements that show Westerner Park was in better shape at the financial year ending on March 31 than the year before. Its operating loss for 2021 was $671,000 compared to $1.13 million in 2020.


-City approves $22 M in financing for Westerner Park

Olesen said this is because more government grants were available to help organizations survive the pandemic. Also, Westerner Park — which was in financial trouble because of overextended debt before the pandemic hit — had laid off 90 per cent of its staff and reined in all discretionary spending to reduce expenses.

Of course, the City of Red Deer also came through with financial assistance, consisting of a $19 million loan and up to $3 million in grants to get Westerner Park through the rest of 2021, he added.

Olesen thanked Red Deer city council and administration for this assistance — and pledged to use as little of the grant as possible.

Projections for 2022 show Westerner Park balancing its budget with the help of revenue-generating events, such as a summer fair — which is still expected to happen as long as the province moves to Stage 3 in its reopening. Olesen hopes to know by June 24 whether Alberta is heading in that direction.

Agritrade, the Canadian Finals Rodeo and the World Junior Hockey Championships are also anticipated to happen later this year.

But Olesen told shareholders plans are underway for holding new self-generated events, and not relying as heavily on revenues from out-of-town event bookings and concerts.

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