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Olds council asked to cost-share $750,000 field house

Olds Regional Exhibition has lost between 90 to 100 per cent of its revenue
MVT stock Tracy Gardner
Olds Regional Exhibition executive director Tracy Gardner recently made another pitch for town funds on behalf of the organization. File photo/MVP Staff

OLDS — The Olds Regional Exhibition (ORE) has asked the town to help cover the costs to convert two of its barns into a field house so it can help stem the losses it’s incurring.

ORE general manager Tracy Gardner made the request during town council’s Oct. 5 policies and priorities meeting.

She said over the years, and especially due to the COVID-19 lockdown, the ORE has lost between 90 to 100 per cent of its revenue. Meanwhile, its overhead and other costs haven’t changed.

To help solve the problem, the suggestion was to split the estimated $750,000 cost to turn the ORE’s relatively unused stables and Kiwanis barn into a field house to be utilized by local teams and groups.

Gardner stressed staffing and maintenance requirements would be low.

“The whole idea is creating a paradigm that has very little input on a routine basis,” Gardner said.

“It’s a little bit like Wander Wash, right? We’re looking at a way where we can provide COVID-safe precautions for people to gather.

“But it is a facility that you book online and that is ready for you when you arrive and doesn’t necessarily require a tremendous amount of human resources other than maintenance, obviously.”

Council voted to accept the presentation as information.

Gardner said things have not improved for the ORE since it came before council last November.

At that time, she asked town council to provide the ORE with $100,000 a year  or if not that, then to perhaps take over the operation of the agricultural entity.

During her Oct. 5 presentation, Gardner said exhibition associations across the province are experiencing the same cash crunch and the COVID-19 lockdown made things even worse.

“What we know is we have graduated from a bleeding industry to a hemorrhaging industry,” Gardner said.

She pegged the industry’s collective net loss as of Aug. 31 in the amount of about $8.5 million and said its representatives have approached the provincial government for help.

To cope locally, Gardner said the ORE has cut staff to the bone and is relying more than ever on volunteers.

“We continue to make staff reductions. I don’t know if you can find a leaner organization administratively,” she said, adding ORE has also deferred maintenance to save money.

They’ve also looked at opportunities to rent out facilities such as the kitchen to make extra money.

Gardner said ORE met with representatives of local teams and groups as well as businesses as part of the process to come up with the field house plan.

She said ORE provides a valuable service to the community offering all kinds of activities that draw people and thus provide spinoff revenue for hotels, motels and other local businesses.

Chief administrative officer Michael Merritt noted the community, in conjunction with Mountain View County, has fulfilled its 2010 recreation master plan and now has several recreation facilities in place.

He said despite its age, the Sportsplex appears to be in good shape and if anything, it may make good sense to renovate it rather than build other new facilities.

In any case Merritt said, when a future recreation master plan is drawn up, residents would be given ample opportunity to provide their input into what sort of recreation facilities might be needed in the future.

He predicted the process to decide on and build new recreation facilities could take as long as 20 years.

Deputy mayor Mary Jane Harper and Coun. Mary Anne Overwater suggested one good step would be to meet with the ORE board to discuss its future.

“We do need to meet with your board and find out where ORE’s long-term plan is,” Harper said.

“Are they going to be granters of recreation facilities, are they going to be agriculture? What are they going to be in the future?”

Gardner agreed that would be a good idea.

“My expectation is that if everyone goes into that with an open mind and an open heart, perhaps out of that, we can find something that has a greater degree of trustworthy relevance and sustainability and business modelling moving forward,” she said. 

Harper warned that this year is going to be “a very tough year budget-wise” for the town.

“We just don’t want to give anybody false hopes here when we are going to be looking at a very tough budget,” she said.