The City of Red Deer has assumed temporary financial oversight of Westerner Park as the non-profit organization deals with financial challenges.
On Tuesday, Westerner Park announced it has requested support from the city, which will work with the group. An in-depth financial audit by a third party will be done to assess the Westerner’s finances.
Factors that led to the agricultural society’s financial instability include the decision to expand the facility, major event contract negotiations, and the current economic reality, it says.
On Monday, 14 full-time staff and 24 part-time and casual staff were laid off. A number of other staff will see a reduction in hours and benefits.
Westerner Park CEO Mike Olesen said steps are underway to reduce costs; for example, by eliminating onsite catering services. Raising prices for visitors is not part of the plan, he said.
“This is not the time for us to raise our prices to make up for our shortfalls. Our strategy moving forward will be to correct our pricing, so we create a value for even more central Albertans to join us as the destination for celebration,” Olesen said.
Canadian Finals Rodeo, Agri-Trade and the World Junior Hockey Championship will also proceed as planned.
Olesen said the Westerner is renegotiating its contract with the Canadian Pro Rodeo Association. The rodeo has to evolve to fit the Red Deer market, said the CEO.
“They want to keep it in Alberta. We’re the right community for that event. We’re the right size. We have the right set up.
“Nobody wants to see that event go, because it does a lot of positive things for us at a time when we really need it.”
Janice Wing, Westerner Park president and board chair, said Westerner Park is not taking the situation lightly.
“Sometimes, something has to break before you can recreate it, or transform it, and that’s exactly what this is. This is a transformational time for Westerner Park.
“We need to look at being innovative, and we need to look at diversity, and we need to look at doing business differently,” Wing said.
Mayor Tara Veer said many local businesses and families rely on the events and facilities at Westerner Park.
“Westerner Park is an absolute economic engine, not just for our local economy, but for our region and for our province and Western Canada,” Veer said.
City manager Allan Seabrooke said until the audit is complete, and the current financial situation is addressed, the city does not know what kind of financial backstop it will have to provide.
“We don’t anticipate that will have any immediate tax impact for our residents. But certainly there may be some financial guarantees that the city will have to provide.
“The city is in very good financial condition and we’ll be able to use our resources,” Seabrooke said.
The Red Deer Rebels organization said it supported the announcement by the city and Westerner Park.
“We believe this is a necessary step in returning the park to sustainability. Both the Rebels and our world junior partners have full assurance from the city of not only business continuity, but a commitment to positive improvements to the guest experience in the near future,” said a Rebels statement.