Westerner Park is gearing up for a busy fall season with hockey games, trade shows and agriculture events — amid pandemic uncertainty.
CEO Mike Olesen has watched COVID-19 cases rise in the province as his staff schedules a growing list of shows and exhibitions.
Alberta reported 1,112 new cases on Thursday, and another 1,168 on Friday. In Red Deer, the active caseload sits at 252.
“There’s a risk factor that will have to be managed, if needed. We will be ready with various scenarios, depending on how it impacts us,” added Olesen.
“But at this point, we are going full-in.”
Besides the start of the Red Deer Rebels hockey season on Sept. 21, the Alberta Food and Beverage Expo is coming up on Sept. 18, the Red Deer Fall Home Show on Oct. 15-17, and the Our Best to You artisan craft show Oct 22-24.
The two of the biggest events planned at Westerner Park this fall are the Canadian Finals Rodeo on Nov. 3 to 7 and the Agri-Trade Equipment Expo Nov. 10-12.
There’s also the Cowboy Kicks dinner fundraiser for the Westerner Park Foundation, with Brett Kissel, on Sept. 18, the Westerner Canada Tattoo Show on Sept. 24-26, the Red Deer Rock and Gem Show on Sept. 29 to Oct. 3, and Oktoberfest on Oct. 2.
Olesen is hoping for the best and explained Westerner Park follows all provincial health guidelines. Masks are not mandated at this time, but are “respected,” said the CEO. Sanitization stations are available in Westerner Park facilities, as well as signage reminding patrons of best health practises — including physical distancing when possible.
But seats in the Centrium will be filled as usual when hockey season begins.
Olesen said there are no provincial restrictions on arena seating. “If we sell out, we sell out. It’s the people’s choice” whether they chose to sit in the stands with, or without, a mask.
Some clients that bring shows to Westerner Park are setting their own rules, however. Live Nation, which co-ordinates major concert tours, has stated it will demand proof of vaccinations at its shows, but none are yet planned for the Centrium.
Westerner Park-organized events will be run in accordance with Alberta Health requirements because the exhibition association is not a health expert, said Olesen. “It is not our position to take (such a) stance in society.”
The Alberta government lifted restrictions on public gatherings, recreation and entertainment activities, business capacities, and concerts and exhibitions on July 1. “We will continue to safely bring COVID-19 measures in line with those used for other respiratory viruses, ” states the Alberta Health website, while noting the situation will be reassessed by Sept. 27.
While it’s important for cash-strapped Westerner Park to bring in new revenue and serve the community, Olesen stressed it will not be at all costs: “If health standards change, so be it. We need to be responsible stewards for our city.”
Westerner Park got into financial difficulties before the pandemic, and COVID-related event cancellations exacerbated the situation.
Olesen said the 2021 revenues were projected with pandemic uncertainty in mind. “We know we may not see the same level of ticket sales or sponsorships, as businesses recover… We built a flexible budget because we realized the risk.”
For now, Olesen is remaining optimistic that Red Deerians and other central Albertans will be able to enjoy scheduled Westerner Park events without new restrictions being imposed.