By Letter to the Editor on August 22, 2020.
Should be an interesting council meeting on Monday. One of the biggest issues will be the approval or cancellation of funding from the City of Lethbridge to Exhibition Park for their expansion. I say cancellation because there was a commitment made by city council to the Exhibition that if they could secure provincial funding (which they did) then the City funding would follow.
There seems to be some hesitation on some council members’ part. Obviously the financial environment has changed since it was approved over a year ago but there was never any formal “no longer approved” message so council finds itself in a bit of a bind.
At the time of approval there may have been some “they will never get provincial funds” thinking so we won’t ever have to worry about it. These are different times and decisions regarding infrastructure have also changed. The underlying question to council is do they honour their previous commitment? It’s not an easy project to pull out of. Many other projects previously approved have gone ahead (3 Avenue reconstruction, Nikka Yuko Garden) as the City understands the importance of keeping people employed and helping stimulate the economy.
The case for Exhibition Park has even more at stake. The business community is acutely aware of the need for a convention centre to draw tourism/business dollars to a market that cannot currently accommodate the needs. A recent statistic from Lethbridge Lodging quotes the spinoff restaurant spending from visitors to Lethbridge at $35 million annually. One can only imagine how much greater that would be given the huge increase in traffic a convention centre would bring.
When council makes its decision it will have many factors to weigh. Their word was given – how do they pull back at a key moment and not have credibility issues in the future? How do they ignore the positive economic impact in jobs and economic spinoff in a community that badly needs it? How would the City be perceived by province if they backed away from the project after funding was already secured?
Unlike many other projects that have already moved ahead this one is a long-term source of revenue rather than just an expense with no revenue return. Other projects were approved and then surprising operational costs surfaced later. In the Exhibition’s case they are self-sustaining and there will be no future taxation to cover operations.
Westerner Park in Red Deer was turned over to the City of Red Deer when they couldn’t secure additional funding. Could the same thing happen in Lethbridge if the project does not move forward? We certainly can’t afford that.