New alliance will bring bright future says Discovery GM

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The general manager of Petrolia Discovery says the foundation has formed a new partnership that is “working for a brighter future for Discovery.”

The board of the Sarnia-Lambton Business Development Corporation has announced a 10-year loan to the heritage site. “Petrolia Discovery Foundation is receiving financing and other assistance that will allow it to refurbish its existing operations as well as meet other operational obligations,” said Chairperson Jace Kohlmeier in a news release.

Petrolia Discovery has had financial difficulties for a number of years which started when an oil spill into Bear Creek drained finances. Superstorm Sandy damaged buildings on the site including the home of the historic Fitzgerald Rig. That took nearly a year to repair. The damage meant oil wells which generate revenue for the site were out of service and not making money to preserve the site.

In December, officials from the Town of Petrolia offered assistance to Discovery, including taking over control of the operation to ensure the artifacts were well cared for. The board had not responded to the offer by the end of June, leading the head of  Petrolia Heritage to call for the foundation to turn the site over to the town. “Discovery is more important than any person or any board of directors. It has to be protected,” he told The Independent June 26.

At the time, Foundation Chair Wendy Bratanek said she didn’t remember talking about the town taking over the site and that the board was still considering the town’s offer.

The Sarnia-Lambton Business Development Corporation announced its assistance of Petrolia Discovery in a news release which was sent out late in the day June 25. The amount of the loan was not released.

Business development corporation General Manager Don Anderson says the board has taken an extensive look at Petrolia Discovery’s books and has been working with the foundation for about four months on a business plan .

“What we’re looking for here is, is there is a plan that is executable that makes sense?” says Anderson. “Petrolia Discovery is an important local site (and) being a community based site that carries a lot of weight to it…It’s an important attraction and we want to help it along the way.

“We were pleased with what we saw (and we are ) pleased with what we see the future is for Discovery.”

Anderson says the business development corporation will work closely with the foundation on a strategy including more support for the tourism side of the site, staff development and engaging more volunteer support in the community.

Anderson adds the foundation has been directed to increase fundraising including the “pursuit of sponsorships” and there is a “commitment from the board to help follow through on the plans.”

Anderson adds the foundation will be more transparent with the community “establishing a clear vision” of Discovery’s future “and sharing it.

“We certainly appreciate there has been some issues and there has been some vandalism issues in the past…(Discovery has been) a  little like the person in the deep water treading to keep their head up,” says Anderson.

“They have the capability of getting past that….We’re a community-based loan fund operation; we like to think when we put our money out we get our money back. Do they have the capability of making that repayment? Based on the plan we’ve seen and shared that’s able to happen.

“I think there is a future…(it is just) getting all the oars pulling the right direction. This gives them a little leg up to more forward.”

Discovery General Manager Donna McIlmoyle says that vision is almost complete and should be shared in a matter of weeks adding the foundation is “very excited” to be working with the development corporation.

“This is a business development group and we are taking advantage of their expertise,” she told The Independent.

“Obviously, we have reformed business plan they are working on now with the development group,” says McIlmoyle adding they turned over 30 years of financial records and foundation minutes to the corporation during the four-month preparation for the loan’s approval.

“This really is a partnership that is working toward a brighter future for Discovery…we’ve formed an alliance together to move forward and have a bright future.”