Western Park renewed a lease agreement with the Red Deer Rebels, the organization announced at its AGM. (Westerner Park image).

Westerner Park recognizes past failures, hopes to regain trust of community

Westerner Park addressed financial uncertainty and other issues at AGM

Westerner Park acknowledged the harsh realities it has faced over the past year at its annual general meeting.

They identified several factors Wednesday that have led to financial distress over the past 12 months, including the decision to expand Exhibition hall, the hosting model of the Canadian Finals Rodeo and operating at a cash loss due to COVID-19 and the struggling economy.

Earlier this year, Westerner Park asked the City of Red Deer for an operating grant of between $1 and $3.5 million. They received $2 million in July to stay operational until at least November.

Western Park CEO Mike Olesen admitted the organization did not act fast enough to limit the damage to its bottom line.

“The board did lack a lot of those insights to really see where we were going. A lot of our operational design was inappropriate to the complexity of the organization. Hindsight would tell you we did not stop the bleeding fast enough,” he said in response to a question from a shareholder about Westerner Park’s budget and losses over the past year.

“If COVID has had any benefit to us, it has really forced us, because the only budget we have right now is the revenue we’re able to earn and that we’re supported with.”

In an address to shareholders, Janice Wing, Westerner Park’s president and board chair, said they have lost accountability with the community and failed to communicate with interested parties.

Wing said they haven’t been able to be as upfront as they would have liked, in part because of the city’s financial oversight. The city assumed financial oversight of the organization in January.

“Through our work with the city, we have not been able to share an awful lot, but that will change,” she said.

“We also need to figure out a way to engage our shareholders and engage our community. It’s interesting, in a time when people are so connected, we couldn’t be more disconnected and that’s a huge challenge for us.”

While the organization will likely get a big economic boost this fall when the Agri-Trade exhibition returns, there are still questions surrounding the Western Hockey League season and the World Junior Hockey Championship in December.

Olesen also noted they have worked with the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association and the Pro Rodeo Association to rework the CFR contract.

“We always knew we would need to learn and adjust. To this degree, no one expected. The fortunate part is the CPRA has been supportive about renegotiating that contract and hosting model for us, so it is more financially stable and sound. This is where they want to be, that is certainly key,” Olesen said.

“For us, this is not about making money, it’s about bringing the economic benefit to the community. Also, it’s a real key gathering component. One of the key roots of our past is rodeo and it’s such a powerful thing for that national championship to be here in Red Deer.”

Westerner Park also announced that they renewed a seven-year lease with the Red Deer Rebels as an anchor tenant at the Centrium. The 15-year agreement was due to expire this year.

“We had some strong and healthy discussion about what the model looks like between the two organizations and how we best work together. We found ways to change those agreements to be more reflective of us working together,” he said.

Olesen indicated many of the employees who were served layoff notices earlier this year are still laid off. He hopes they can bring as many back as possible in the near future.

“We need to make decisions, and what we’re working on is how will hockey be affected in the future and what does that look like from a fan perspective,” he said.

“Hockey and certainly the world juniors are so important to us … that will be a factor in how we manage staff. At the end of the day, we need to be 100 per cent responsible and take 100 per cent ownership of our operations. And our resources need to be appropriate to the amount of revenue that we’re earning.

“That’s the simple fact of the matter.”

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