While the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, Red Deer City council said it is also focused on the continuing financial challenges at Westerner Park, which is now amplified by the growing economic impacts of the pandemic.
On Monday, as part of their decision-making process, city council will receive a legal briefing on matters related to Westerner Park. No decisions will be made in-camera.
As a hub for central Albertans to gather and celebrate community events, Westerner Park is a non-profit organization and agriculture society that serves the community in a number of ways. From concerts and trades shows, weddings and banquets, hockey games and agricultural events, Westerner Park drives over $150 million of regional economic activity.
At this time, the organization is further impacted by the restrictions of events, including sporting events, festivals and mass gatherings related to COVID-19.
Between December 2019 and April 2020, the following occurred:
- In December 2019, Westerner Park informed The City of its fiscal challenges and reached out to The City for assistance.
- On Monday, January 27, 2020, Westerner Park laid off 14 full-time equivalent and 24 part-time and casual Westerner Park staff. A number of other staff saw a reduction in hours and benefits.
- Effective January 28, 2020, The City assumed financial oversight of Westerner Park
- In response to COVID-19 and the financial impact to operations, in March 2020 Westerner Park temporarily laid off approximately 90 per cent of the remaining Westerner Park staff. As of March 31, 2020, there are 16 staff still employed at Westerner Park to attend to building and site maintenance, financial matters, post COVID-19 planning and other functions related to basic operations of Westerner Park.
- On April 24, following the guidelines set out by Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Westerner Park cancelled Westerner Days for 2020.
City administration has been working with Westerner Park administration in providing financial direction and operational support to stabilize operations and allow time for the city to consider longer-term options. The Westerner Park board of directors continues to provide overall direction to Westerner Park with support and oversight from The City of Red Deer as it relates to financial decision-making and approval of Westerner Park’s annual budget.
While currently scheduled events are postponed at this time, Westerner Park and the City of Red Deer continue to review contracts related to key major events that are slated to take place in the future.
A number of factors ultimately led to the financial instability at Westerner Park, including the decision to expand the facility, major event contract negotiations and the current economic reality, to name a few. Factoring in the impact of COVID-19, The city will need to make decisions related to Westerner Park’s financial and operational matters as well as The City’s legal relationship with Westerner Park.
The following decisions will need to be made and actions taken in the next two months:
- Short and long term support of Westerner Park to address the operating deficit and the capital debt load. Depending on the type of support, council will need to pass appropriate bylaws or other financial instruments by the end of May.
- A review of The City of Red Deer and Westerner Park’s legal relationship.
- The city is in the process of contracting forensic and operational auditors to complete an in-depth look at Westerner Park’s financial and operating situation. These were temporarily put on hold as the city worked on its pandemic response.
- By the end of May, city council will need to make decisions on Westerner Park’s cash flow.
“Despite the ongoing pandemic, the City of Red Deer continues to work with Westerner Park to re-establish viable and sustainable business practices to stabilize the financial situation of the organization,” said City Manager Allan Seabrooke.
“The city currently has financial oversight of the organization, and we are engaged in a critical financial audit right now, working to assess the situation and plan for a time when Westerner Park can not only reopen but do so in a financially sustainable way.”
-Westerner Park photo