City to take deeper look at Heritage Park's books after plea for more money

Calgary's city council has approved taking a deeper dive to examine how much financial trouble Heritage Park is in.

Calgary attraction says it's at risk of posting first deficit in 54 years

Calgary's city council will be examining Heritage Park's spending as the attraction says it's at risk of posting a deficit. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Calgary's city council has approved taking a deeper dive to examine how much financial trouble Heritage Park is in.

CEO Alida Visbach told city council earlier this month that without more money, Heritage Park is looking at posting its first deficit in 54 years.

She said they're looking at closing some exhibits and laying off staff.

Lower attendance has resulted in a loss of revenues, Visbach said, while increases in the carbon tax and the minimum wage have resulted in higher spending.

Corporate sponsorships have fallen off during the past few years due to an economic downturn.

Further complicating factors is lower water levels on the reservoir to allow for upgrades to the Glenmore Dam meant the S.S. Moyie paddlewheeler spent this year in dry dock.

Visbach said the lack of sailings cost Heritage Park more than $700,000 in lost revenue this year.

Cry for financial help

Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart said the call for more money has happened before but she feels this year, the cry is louder.

"I just felt that if it was this serious and if their operations are in that much jeopardy, that we'd better wake up and pay attention to this," said Colley-Urquhart.

She's convinced her council colleagues to support a review of Heritage Park's financials for the past several years.

City officials will examine what's happened to revenues in the 2015 to 2018 period and review how badly the loss of the Moyie hurt this year's bottom line.

The review will also look at the upcoming four-year budget drawn up by Heritage Park's board of directors and capital spending over the past five years.

"It's always easy to find capital money. It's not so easy to find operating dollars," said Colley-Urquhart.

She wants to be sure council has the complete financial picture as it prepares to debate a new four-year budget this November.

Councillor doesn't want attraction handed to city

Heritage Park sits on city-owned land on the east side of the Glenmore Reservoir so the city has a vested interest in seeing the operation succeed.

"If they can't make ends meet and live within their means, then what's the plan?" asked the veteran councillor.

"I don't want to wake up one day and see that this has been reverted back to the City of Calgary and now we have to step in."

Water levels have been lowered on the Glenmore Reservoir for flood mitigation work. Heritage Park said it's lost funds as the S.S. Moyie paddlewheeler spent the year in dry dock. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

The attraction has looked at options for opening up new revenue streams.

A couple of years ago, it started to charge for parking.

It signed a deal with the Calgary Parking Authority to use its ParkPlus technology.

Colley-Urquhart said that resulted in a $300,000 boost in revenues, but Heritage Park had to pay the parking authority $100,000 for managing the system and enforcement.

As well, Heritage Park said it has tried to reduce expenditures.

It has laid off staff and reduced wages. Visbach told council this month that their use of fuels like diesel, natural gas and gasoline are down 18 per cent and their electricity usage has been cut by 12 per cent in recent years.


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