Edmonton short $8M from city-run facilities in 2019

Edmonton expects to collect $8 million less from city-run facilities than it budgeted for this year because of extended closures, fewer people paying full price for admission and the weather. 

The community and recreation facilities estimated it would take in $71 million in revenue but now believes that will be closer to $63 million. 

Roger Jevne, branch manager of community and recreation facilities, presented the deficit projection to city council at a meeting this week.

Extended closures and planned shutdowns account for more than $3 million of the facilities’ deficit this year.

Jasper Place and Bonnie Doon leisure centres were closed for the full year and the Muttart Conservatory has been closed since July, all for major rehabilitation work.

The Mill Woods recreation centre, Londonderry leisure centre and several pools were closed for maintenance work, “all of which impact our attendance and actual revenues,” Jevne said.

“As our facilities get older we’re doing major rehab work, so they get shut down for extended durations of time,” he said. “When they’re closed, we’re not taking in any revenue.”

Jevne noted that the expectation to generate a certain amount of money is “built into the budget” despite the closures — it’s what he calls “overly optimistic forecasting.” 

The city runs nearly 100 facilities, including four multipurpose recreation centres, 11 leisure centres, 23 indoor arenas, five outdoor swimming pools, 22 river valley parks, the zoo, the Muttart Conservatory and cemeteries. 

Targets for recovering costs depend on the nature of the facility. 

The city doesn’t expect to recover 100 per cent of the cost to operate its public facilities but the level of subsidy varies depending on the nature of the venue. (City of Edmonton)

While arenas and rec centres recoup the majority of their operating costs, parks, outdoor pools and sports fields are heavily subsidized. 

Smaller neighbourhood pools, for example, are subsidized more than bigger recreation centres. 

“They have higher expenses, lower revenues, lower admissions,” Jevne said. “But they’re seen as important to the community.”

Stadium no-shows

Commonwealth Stadium is expected to come up short $1.8 million in revenue, or more than 50 per cent of the budgeted amount.

The city says fewer people bought tickets to soccer and football games in 2019 than estimated, attributing some of this decline to economic factors. 

Then there was the record rainy summer. 

“It certainly impacts our outdoor venues,” Jevne said of the rain. “It impacts ticket sales at the stadium.” 

The city also counts on revenues from two or three major shows when it sets the stadium base budget every year and those didn’t pan out in 2019.

“If there aren’t touring shows or shows coming through Western Canada that are doing stadiums, we’re a bit challenged to hit those targets.”

Jevne said many artists don’t want to commit to stadium shows because they risk getting rained out. Acts also don’t want to play stadiums if they can’t fill seats.

“You have to be able to draw 40,000 people versus 15,000 in an arena show, as the venue looks quite empty,” he said. “So there’s not a lot of acts that can draw enough to fill a stadium.”

In 2017, Guns N’ Roses and Metallica played at the stadium. Other big acts in the past, have included U2 and Beyoncé.

Jevne explained that revenue from the stadium comes from the main bowl, the community recreation centre, the field house and Clarke Park.

The sluggish economy also explains an uptake in discounted passes. 

“Overall attendance remains strong but we have a decline in paid attendance,” Jevne said.

More people started using the city’s leisure access program since city council agreed in 2017 to expand the discounts to low-income residents. 

Use of the leisure access program has jumped 116 per cent since 2014 with 524,000 more visits in 2019 than five years earlier.

Coun. Andrew Knack said council decided to expand the program so more people could go to rec centres. 

“I think that’s far better that we’re seeing that,” Knack said Wednesday. “I wouldn’t want to revisit or change the parameters of the leisure access program after we purposely made a decision to expand it.” 

Jevne said his branch will re-evaluate a variety of discounts offered to other customers through community leagues, corporate wellness plans and other methods.

Future strategy

To try to balance the budget next year, the city plans to revisit admission fees, look at operating efficiencies and enhance online sales and marketing strategies.

A slight fee increase is planned for 2021 and 2022. Single admission for an adult at a recreation centre like Terwillegar or Clareview is slated to go up from $11.50 to $11.75 and then to $12.

“We need to make sure we’re priced right,” Jevne said of possible increases. “We need to be sensitive of that — about what the market will bear and what Edmontonians are prepared to pay to visit.” 

The community and recreation facilities branch will submit a supplemental budget for 2021-22 to make up for lost revenues.


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