By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News
Lethbridge County council is moving forward with a $2 million commitment to the Lethbridge & District Exhibition to help fund the completion of the new Agri-food Hub and Trade Centre.
Following a delegation by CEO of Lethbridge & District Exhibition Mike Warkentin last month, council directed administration to bring back a report on the financial ask for consideration at a future council meeting.
The request for funds is to help offset overages incurred during the construction of the new facilities in Lethbridge. Warkentin said the organization began pitching to additional funding sources due to some changes in the project’s original scope. The City of Lethbridge has also made a commitment of $25 million to fund the completion of the facilities.
During the Oct. 20 delegation before council, Warkentin said the County’s contribution, “would be utilized 100 per cent in project capital costing,” adding the project has seen “significant price escalations” on the non-stipulated sum items of construction. In this case, provincial funds cannot be spent to outfit the building with the necessary technology. Additionally, the demolition and asbestos abatement of some of the existing facilities and pavilions required a, “greater than expected” capital demand once the abatement studies were completed.
“The misconception is that we are building a metropolitan convention centre, but the reality is we are building a convention centre with metropolitan assets and amenities, but really were doing so 200 feet from the County line,” said Warkentin. He added, “the audience we serve is proportionately county members. As we look to expand the investment in the region, that investment is going to disproportionately flow into the agricultural sector because it is our regionally distinct advantage.”
The new facilities will have the capacity to host large conferences and events, attracting tourism and interest in the region, which Warkentin pitched as a tangible return on investment for Lethbridge County. Although the grounds fall within the boundaries of the city, the new facilities are in close proximity to the County and will support long-term investment in the Ag industry, as well as increased tourism to the region.
On the advice of administration, the contribution will come out of the County’s tax equalization reserve which currently has a balance of approximately $4.9 million. As council deliberated the agenda item, Reeve Tory Campbell said, “We often come up against some of our neighbours and urban partners, and quite frankly, I think we fall a little short of what we bring to the table financially.” Campbell added he was in support of advocating for a more “aggressive use” of the County’s reserves.
“Those are hard-earned dollars, and I think it’s important we invest those dollars and not just sit on them.”
The motion to commit to a $2 million investment in the new facilities was carried unanimously by. County council. The Agri-food Hub and Trade Centre is slated to open in spring 2023, with the demolition of old pavilions to take place in summer 2023. Following the decision to commit the funds, Campbell said, “we feel we have followed through on our vision of Lethbridge County being one of Canada’s most innovative rural communities.”
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