Northlands saw just over 800,000 take in K-Days last month. That’s a 2.3 percent increase over 2015. Yet even as optimistic as those numbers are, the potential is there that we may have seen the last K-Days ever.
“Could very well be,” acknowledged Northlands CEO Tim Reid as a crucial City Hall vote is due August 31.
“We’ve been very clear with our decision making that we won’t be the next not-for-profit that finds ourself in the red.”
The dollars and cents of it is, Northlands is carrying a $47 million mortgage on the Expo Centre. Recently Northlands revenue would be topped up by something in the neighborhood of $150 million a year from what goes on at Rexall Place.
“We have a significant debt, outstanding on the Expo Centre,” Reid told reporters. “It was very easy for us to pay. We’ve never missed a payment on it. But we also had revenue associated with Rexall Place. When we decided to transition that revenue stream to Rogers Place, and put some challenging regulations around that, our business model changed.”
City council will vote on the Vision-2020 proposal from Northlands that would see Rexall turned into a six-plex, the horse racing venue phased out, and a festival/concert business moved in, as part of a much larger real estate play on the 160-acre site.
“In both cases they get the debt,” Reid said of the $47-million ‘yes or no’ vote that city council will make. “In the Vision-2020 case, in the partnership with Northlands I think our board would be certainly willing to re-evaluate, and payback the debt once we find the right revenue streams. But I suggest this was a risk, when every one knew the potential when they chose to build the downtown arena.”
Reid is confident that eventually real estate revenue would be able to allow Northlands to continue to pay the bills on the Expo Centre. Especially with some of the built in amenities nearby on 112th avenue like the health clinic and a grocery store.
The 160-acre campus is also being pitched to other festivals as a new permanent home, as a cost saving move. “If we could put fixed infrastructure in there, it would enhance the expense line,” Reid said.
One example is the south stage that was used for concerts during K-Days. “If we were to keep some of this material up going into K-Days or coming out of K-Days we could invite other festivals to come and use it. There was certainly interest from other groups that suggested they could save significant expense but also grow their attendance by having a venue like this.”
Jim Gibbon, the executive director of the Heritage Festival said they have no intention of leaving Hawrelak Park. However he confirms there have been informal conversations of an exploratory nature.
Gibbon looks at the Monday attendance of 135,000 which was third largest in festival history as a perfect blue-sky day that he wishes could have lasted into the evening. “It would have been nice to be extend by an hour or two. There was a lot of people on site that would have been very very happy to have been able to stay a little bit longer.”
“Northlands is a wonderful group of people and we’re always happy to chat with them,” Gibbon said. The two are in discussions about a winter themed festival.
After the city council vote Aug 31, council is also expected to get a report late this year about cost saving moves for all of the festivals, including a look at how policing costs can be reduced.