POSTPONED TO 2021
To our valued guests, we want to clarify some misinformation that is being spread related to our decision to postpone The SAWMILL at Lansdowne until 2021. Rightfully so, many of you are angry and confused as to why we would announce the closure just hours before opening on Friday night. We are frustrated; please understand that there are many factors beyond our control that went into making this decision.
Here are a few things we want to clarify:
We have spent two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars planning, designing, and producing The SAWMILL. We put tickets on sale on Friday, March 13th, 2020…later that same day most of Ottawa went into lockdown.
From the beginning of the pandemic, Saunders Farm has worked hard to find ways to operate safely, meeting or exceeding all public health guidelines. Our average guest health & safety satisfaction score has exceeded 92% since May when we began our 2020 operating season.
To put on an event like this requires significant involvement from the City of Ottawa, including Bylaw Services and, due to the pandemic, Ottawa Public Health. Operating on The Great Lawn at Lansdowne, property owned by the City of Ottawa, means the City of Ottawa has a special interest in the project as our landlord.
Our original plan was to sell 100 tickets every 30 minutes, making for an amazing guest experience while also ensuring we could operate profitably as a business. As the pandemic rolled on, new guidelines meant we would need to shift to a model where 50 guests would be welcome on site every 15 minutes. This was a slight challenge to overcome, but still doable.
As we all first entered into Stage 2 back in June, we paid close attention to the impacts both for The SAWMILL and our primary business on our family farm in Munster. We actively avoided selling any additional tickets in June and July while we waited to see what new guidance would be provided by the province.
On July 17th, we moved into Stage 3 and began promoting The SAWMILL again. At this point, we began closely collaborating with various departments at the City of Ottawa to make sure that we would follow all guidelines. In August, we submitted our site plan and architectural drawings to the City of Ottawa for review and were classified as an outdoor public event.
On October 9th, when Ottawa moved back into a modified Stage 2 state, we took a long pause, consulted with our partners at OSEG and the City of Ottawa, and determined next steps. At this point, we continued to be classified as an outdoor public event. We would need to further reduce our capacity from 50 guests per session down to just 25. At this point, our event could not operate profitably in 2020 but we made the decision to continue operations mainly due to (A) the clear need from the public for a safe and fun event and (B) the significant investment that went into producing the event and (c) our firm belief we could operate with the same level of public health & safety as we have on our Farm all summer and early fall.
7. On October 15th, just 25 hours before our event was scheduled to open, we were informed by the City of Ottawa we would no longer be considered an outdoor public event. We would now need to reduce our capacity from 25 guests per booking session to 10. This was devastating news but, still, we were committed to finding a way to operate.
We began contacting guests who had booked for Friday, attempting to reschedule 60% of them for new dates. At the same time, our production crew worked diligently to modify the attraction to accommodate just 10 guests.
8. After several hours of hard work, we realized that the only way we could operate in 2020 would significantly impact the experience of our guests and, more importantly, the only way to maintain our original vision for the attraction could very easily result in violating public health guidelines, given the new designation we had been given by the City of Ottawa less than 24 hours ago.
9. On October 16, at 12 noon we had our final inspection to operate, but we were now facing extreme pressure to close for the public good.
10. At 2:30pm on Friday, October 16th, OSEG and Saunders Farm had our third emergency meeting in 2 days and we made the decision to postpone to 2021 to further support Ottawa’s effort to stop the spread of Covid.
11. Our tickets have always stated that there are no refunds and, since August, our terms have stated: In the event of further COVID restrictions or shut downs, tickets will not be refunded but will be transferred to 2021 events.
We share these details not to justify our decisions but to simply help educate our guests on the challenges of managing even just this one aspect of our business during this pandemic. Our Farm has operated between 5-10% capacity and with a small, skeleton crew for most of the year (no pun intended).
We are asking our guests to postpone their SAWMILL tickets until 2021 as issuing refunds will create further financial strain on our business and almost certainly impact the quality of our operations well beyond this year as we work to recover.
If you are in a position to postpone your tickets, we are forever grateful. And, if not, we understand and ask that you contact us to discuss timing of refund options.
On behalf of the Saunders Family, Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, and our partners at the City of Ottawa and Ottawa Public Health, we thank you for your support.