Change at Rawlinson comes as a shock

The E.A. Rawlinson Centre. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Prince Albert’s largest arts venue will have a new operator in the New Year, and that news came as a surprise to the old one.

On Thursday, the City of Prince Albert announced it was not renewing Star Development Corporation’s operating contract for the E.A. Rawlinson Centre. The contract ends on Dec. 31.

The city plans to run with an interim management team until they find a permanent operator in the New Year.

The news came as a shock to Star Development owner and president Darren McCaffery, who was still reeling after being notified on Dec. 12.

“I’m still kind of in a bit of shock and awe,” he said during an interview on Thursday. “It’s only been two days. It’s like, okay, I guess we’re moving on.”

McCaffery has been involved with the Prince Albert Arts Board and E.A. Rawlinson Centre in a variety of capacities since 2000.

He said he was under the impression that the city was happy with Star Development’s management. When they began the renewal process in September, he thought it was business as usual.

“It took us right out of left field, so it was never anything that we had anticipated,” he said. “We were not getting any feedback from the city that they were unhappy. We were actually booking (events) right up until the day of the meeting.”

McCaffery said the city gave him a week to prepare and present an emergency operational report. Afterwards, he was told the contract would not be renewed based on that report.

“We were told that it was a political decision (and) it wasn’t based on anything that we had done as an operator. I‘m not sure what that means,” he said.

The City of Prince Albert has been tight lipped on why they made the change.

Community Services Director Jody Boulet declined to comment on the reasons, but did confirm that the city conducts annual reviews with all contract holders. However internal review process are kept confidential between the city and the contractor.

Boulet added that he doesn’t expect the change to affect public and private functions that have already been booked.

“We do have an interim plan in place so that any of the upcoming rentals in the centre will go on as usual,” he explained. “We’re reaching out to all of those different promoters and patrons of our facility here in the coming days and we’re certainly letting them know we’re open for business.”

There is no timeline for when a new permanent operator will take over, although Boulet hopes to have someone in place as soon as possible. If things go according to plan, he expects to have more information available by mid-January.

Despite being let go, McCaffery maintains no hard feelings towards the city. He said Boulet and City Manager Jim Toye have been “100 per cent in our corner,” and credited the city management team for helping turn the Rawlinson into a success.

In a way, that makes it tougher for him to let go.

“I just really, really loved the time that I spent there,” he said. “Literally, my blood, sweat and tears are on the floor in that building. I’m not sure I’m impressed with the way it played out, but I get it.”

Star Development began operating the E.A. Rawlinson 14 years ago.

@kerr_jas •