David Marsden: Let’s see success at Westerner Park

It’s encouraging that Westerner Park has admitted it needs the support of the city to keep itself afloat.

The facility, which is the jewel of central Alberta and an invaluable community resource, cannot be allowed to flounder. It generates more than $150 million a year in economic activity and is a source of tremendous pride.

It was wise of the board of directors to confess that finances had devolved to the point where they needed a life raft in the form of further taxpayer support.

Let’s face it, unlike private enterprises, such as numerous hotels in the city that generate a profit for their owners by hosting events and clients, Westerner Park has always relied on support from taxpayers to keep its doors open.

Still, the answer isn’t to allow current conditions to prevail. The city needs to act quickly and purposefully to ensure Westerner Park lives up to its potential.

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Worryingly, the city talks about the facility’s board of directors continuing to provide overall direction for the park.

Really? The same individuals who oversaw the direction of the facility during these continuing challenging times are the ones to start turning a profit?

That makes no sense. Having admitted that Westerner Park is financially troubled, the board of directors should step aside with grace. The city should insist on this as a condition of extending further taxpayer support.

The scary part is the city itself has members on the board of directors. Red Deer County has one and the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce has an honorary position. So the money troubles shouldn’t come as a surprise to those we rely on to ensure our city and region’s success.

The city must reach out to Red Deerians who have a track record of business success and encourage them to lead Westerner Park’s transformation, its reinvention, as volunteers.

The city must coax the involvement of outsiders who possess expertise in running such amenities to come aboard and ensure the facility is a vibrant hub for the community without being an unnecessary drain on taxpayers’ cash.

Westerner Park’s management should be ensuring its space is put to greater use. Why aren’t employees bringing in more concerts and other major events to keep the lights on?

Red Deer’s location, within a few hours drive for more than two million people, is a huge opportunity. The fact the facility, which may have overextended itself with recent construction, is in financial stress is unacceptable.

What shouldn’t change is leadership at the top. CEO Mike Olesen, who was only recently named to the position, has a strong grasp of what needs to be done.

“We have already taken a number of steps to reduce financial pressures,” he said in a release Tuesday.

“We remain committed to serving our community through leadership and vision for a venue and community asset that connects people with each other and with their city in invaluable ways.

“Westerner Park is an economic driver in Red Deer and central Alberta, and I am confident we as an organization will overcome these challenges, continuing to serve the citizens who will live, work and play here for decades to come.”

Glad to hear it. Now, let’s see the results.

David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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