The collective sigh of relief may have been simply metaphorical for Westerner Park this week, but clarity did calm the waters.
It’s been a tumultuous past year for the organization, with financial woes compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic creating an uncertain future.
That future gained a bit more clarity earlier this week when the City of Red Deer agreed to provide Westerner Park with $22 million in financing (a $3-million grant and a $19-million loan), to see the organization through its current difficulties.
“We feel good about it. It’s been a big effort from a number of people to put together the right model. At the end of the day, we’re relieved,” said Westerner Park CEO Mike Olesen.
“For a better part of a year, it’s been turmoil. A lot of the unknowns and certainly compounded by COVID…
“Emotionally, nobody would deny you just can’t lose Westerner Park but at the same time, there are some realities of our financial situation. It’s been a pressure-packed year and I’m pleased with how we’ve come out of it.”
Olesen said while the money will inevitably help with operational costs and keep them afloat as the pandemic continues to cut revenues, it will also provide certainty for their partners.
“The primary thing was our clients. Those events that do host here, it gives them a sense of security that they know what the future looks like,” he said.
“For us as a team, the remaining staff and volunteers involved in the organization, it’s always difficult to work on tomorrow, when you’re really still dealing with yesterday. It’s good, we can look past that and move forward.”
He thinks Westerner Park can now begin to write a new chapter, building off their long-standing commitment to the community.
“We’ve got so many good opportunities that we’re developing here and it’s just difficult to move those to the finish line until you have that stabilization,” he said.
On another front, the organization is still in a holding pattern, waiting for news surrounding the status of its biggest event of the year.
Westerner Days, slated for later this summer, still doesn’t have the go-ahead from the provincial government or even more clarity about what a modified event could look like. Westerner Days was cancelled last year for just the fourth time in its 128-year history.
Olesen says they’ve still got some runway about what they will do, but time is quickly running out and ultimately, they still need to make a decision sooner rather than later.
“We continue to be prudent in our planning but remain cautiously optimistic,” he said, adding they’re working closely with operators of the Calgary Stampede and other major fair operators on how to proceed.
He added one of the big factors allowing them to keep waiting is the patience of their Midway contractor.
Whenever the ball drops on summer events, Olesen said they’ll be ready.
“It’s going to depend on what things look like in probably three weeks to a month’s time. It’s getting late but we’re holding out as long as we can,” he said.