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City budget falls far short of Heritage Park’s funding request

Calgary has found new money for Heritage Park in its new four-year budget, but the amount won’t even begin to cover wage increases for the 2019 season.

The popular attraction which is operated by a not-for-profit society on city-owned land has seen its revenues drop in recent years, and has gone to the city looking for as much as $1 million to add to its base operating revenue.

In the Calgary One Budget document, city administration is proposing adding $491,000 to the society’s base operating funds over the four-year budget cycle.

To put that in perspective, Alida Visbach, president and CEO of Heritage Park Historical Village, said that works out to about $120,000 each year, while their wage costs alone are set to increase by $760,000 in 2019 because of the minimum wage adjustment.

However, Visbach said she’s grateful that city administration is trying to work with them to find a solution.

“We also realize this is a tough year,” she said. “This next four-year budget cycle is very difficult and council has a lot of tough decisions to make. I’m aware that Heritage Park is not the only organization that’s asking for assistance going forward.”

Aside from the nearly half-million dollars city administration has built into the budget (which still needs council approval), there are two options to provide the park with even more funding.

Administration says one option is to provide an additional $384,000 in 2019, although the document doesn’t specify where that money would come from. Another option is to provide an additional $1 million to the society’s base operating grant in 2019, bringing their annual operating grant from the city up to $4.1 million annually.

Coun. Dianne Colley-Urquhart, who initially brought forward a notice of motion asking administration to take a closer look at Heritage Park, said the $1 million ask is simply not going to happen.

“I would connect this to the Olympics Vote,” said Urquhart. ‘What I heard is that (Calgarians) want this to be an austerity budget.”

Visbach said Heritage Park is looking for cost savings wherever it can, but it has reached a point where cutting workers is not really an option.

“There are safety concerns around that,” said Visbach.

“We are a big facility and you have to have a certain amount of people on site just to provide a good experience but also a safe experience for our visitors.”

She does see some potential positives happening next season. Visbach said the S.S. Moyie should be on the water again in the 2019 season.

The city’s work on the Glenmore Reservoir Dam and the highly fluctuating water levels that went with it meant that the Moyie had to remain in dock last summer.

That meant lower revenues, both at the gate, and from rental opportunities that Heritage Park offers after hours – Captain Cruises and catered events aboard the ship.

“It’s ready to go from our point of view,” she said. “It’s just a matter of getting the dock back in place and having water levels high enough so that the boat can navigate.”

The park is also planning to keep its admission and season pass costs at 2018 levels.

“Our consumer confidence is not at the level that it used to be here in Calgary. People are making tough decisions about their spending as well, and we recognize that.”