The empty arena at the Calnash Ag Event Centre on Jan. 18, 2021. ((Emily Jaycox/Ponoka News)

The empty arena at the Calnash Ag Event Centre on Jan. 18, 2021. ((Emily Jaycox/Ponoka News)

Outlook for Calnash in 2021 a waiting game

Ag event centre losing thousands during shutdown

Although the Calnash Ag Event Centre, along with other recreational facilities, was shut down by provincial health restrictions on Dec. 8, 2020, effectively halting revenue, the building continues to have costs.

With utility and lighting costs, and the loss of revenue, it’s estimated the Calnash is losing between $17,000 and $25,000 per month.

“The bills keep rolling in,” said Terry Jones, Ponoka Ag Event Centre Society (PAECS) president.

The Calnash Ag Event Centre is owned by the Ponoka Ag Society, the Town of Ponoka, Ponoka County and the Ponoka Stampede Association, all of which make up the PAECS.

A committee with members from each of the four parties is currently working on drafting a lease agreement for PAECS.

“It’s in the works,” said Jones.

With a lease under PAECS, they would be able to apply for an operational grant for the Calnash from the provincial government. Under the lease agreement, nothing would change with the operation of the building.

Although it was suggested during county council’s meeting on Jan. 12 that perhaps the Calnash could rent out stalls in the barn for boarding horses to help offset costs, Ag event centre manager Dennis Pugh says that wouldn’t work well.

When events are able to be held again, boarders would have to be asked to leave, which wouldn’t be fair, he says.

“Under normal circumstances, we’re just not able to offer that,” said Pugh.

There may be other issues as well, such as security considerations.

In the meantime, without events going on, Pugh says it’s “lonely” around the near-empty event centre, and hopes things can go back to normal soon.

Under the current restrictions, the Ag event centre is not allowed to hold any competitions, but is open for riding and exercising horses.

Although restrictions were originally set to be lifted on Jan. 21, Pugh says they’ve had “no inkling” if that will still be the case.

The Calnash is already booked for 2021, it just remains to be see which events will be able to go ahead as the pandemic continues.

“(Without) COVID, we have a very busy year slated,” said Pugh.

Producers need time in advance to plan and get shows together and as things are up-in-the-air, they’re just waiting day-by-day, says Pugh.

The event centre had re-opened in July and had been able to hold some events, with restrictions and protocols in place, but many producers had cancelled early, while some of the others who waited until later were able to go ahead with their events.

Some events, by their nature, lent themselves better to COVID-19 measures — for example, it was easier to physically distance — while others weren’t possible to hold.

During the current shutdown, there are two staff members at work in the barn, washing stalls, making small repairs and completing other maintenance work, as well as making some improvements in the arena, according to Pugh.

“We’re just waiting for the government to relax the restrictions so we can get back open,” said Jones.