Seven people were laid off in January by Northlands, the company that puts on K-Days and Farm Fair, CTV News Edmonton has confirmed.
The layoffs leave the organization with 25 full-time employees, down from 32.
Northlands had been receiving a $7 million grant from the provincial government to help put on Farm Fair, but according to Ward 7 City Councillor Tony Caterina, that grant was cut to $4.5 million in last fall’s provincial budget.
Northlands’ website is still promoting the 2020 Farm Fair for Nov. 11 to 15 at the Expo Centre, and Caterina believes the long-running agriculture industry show is still in the works, despite the recent layoffs.
He believes the future of Farm Fair may depend on the next provincial budget, which is set to be tabled in the legislature by the end of February.
Caterina says Northlands’ other major event, K-Days, largely depends on volunteers to run, and the organization’s website claims 1,300 people still volunteer with Northlands.
Councillor Caterina spent 6 years on the Northlands board representing City Council, and says it’s only natural the organization is downsizing, given the massive change to how it makes money.
“Their business model was based on the Coliseum,” said Caterina.
For more than four decades Northlands had used the profits from hosting Oilers games and concerts to put on events like K-Days and Farm Fair.
“Any revenues that came into Northlands was always reinvested into the city, with growing the grounds, building the Expo Centre,” said Caterina.
Northlands once owned and operated the Expo Centre and Coliseum, but when the downtown arena deal saw the Oilers leave the Coliseum, Northlands gave the facilities to the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) in 2017.
The City of Edmonton owns EEDC, and forgave Northlands’ $47 million debt as part of the deal.
EEDC took over operations at the Expo Centre, the Coliseum has been closed since January 1, 2018.
In a statement to CTV News, Northlands’ President Peter Male says, “Decisions about staffing and ones that affect people are always difficult, but the decisions we have made are necessary to ensure that these two signature events are sustainable moving forward.”
Caterina believes Northlands is now well positioned to continue hosting K-Days, Farm Fair, and River Fest, but says if times hit hard again, the city would consider stepping in.
“There’s huge value to the city of Edmonton and to the region for all these types of events,” said Caterina.