January 22nd, 2021

Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden facility good investment for City

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on June 3, 2020.

Trina Tymko, Kimberly Lyall

and Barrie Orich

Board members,

Lethbridge Transparency Council

In 2017, Lethbridge City Council approved the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden Program and Community Facility (Facility) as part of the Capital Improvement Program (CIP). On April 6, council defeated a motion to discontinue the project, thereby keeping the project in the current CIP budget.

Reaction to council’s decision was swift, with many in Lethbridge crying foul over spending during a time of economic uncertainty and COVID-19. So, the LTC investigated. Here is what we learned.

Facility cost: $2.9 Million

Funding sources:

– Federal Gas Tax Fund (GTF): $2,538,000 (87 per cent);

– City of Lethbridge: $292,000 (10 per cent); and

– Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden Society (NYJGS): $90,000 (3 per cent)

Since 2017 the NYJGS has also raised an additional $120,500 to be used for furniture, fixtures and equipment including exhibit design and implementation. In addition to the above, the NYJGS has already contributed $20,000 and six years of planning and co-ordination into the project with the City. Thus, the NYJGS’s financial commitment to date totals $230,500.

The City is paying a fraction of the cost, while bringing over $2.5 million into Lethbridge. The GTF can only be used for new construction (CIP), so options for these funds are limited. The City of Lethbridge has spent approximately $210,000 of their $292,000 contribution towards the project to this point.

Why is the NYJGS not constructing the facility themselves? They proposed that option, but Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden is located in Henderson Lake Park, all of which is City property. The City will own the new facility and the NYJGS will operate it.

Why is the new facility needed?

A little background is helpful. The NYJGS is a not-for-profit society that exists to provide education and programming about the Garden, and the important contributions of Japanese Canadians to southern Alberta. Over the past four years, visitors to the Garden have increased by 333 per cent (from 12,000 visitors to an average of 40,000 visitors) due to expanded programming, including the successful Winter Lights Festival. The Garden is rated by Trip Advisor as Lethbridge’s top attraction (https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attractions-g154919-Activities-Lethbridge_Alberta.html), and is the most recognizable of Lethbridge’s tourism offerings.

The estimated economic impact to Lethbridge from tourists visiting the Garden is $1.1 million annually. (Source: Visitor Expenditure Characteristics https://www.alberta.ca/Alberta-visitor-profiles.aspx/ and Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden visitor statistics.)

Currently 53 per cent of the annual operating budget for the Garden Society comes from the City. The rest of their budget is earned through admissions, souvenir sales and fundraising. According to Michelle Day, executive director of the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden, the Society wants to be less reliant on the City of Lethbridge for operational funding. To achieve this, the NYJGS needs space to operate its programs and special events year-round, and regardless of weather.

Currently, admissions and programs are at the mercy of the weather. Guided tours are limited in numbers, and in the size of groups that can be accommodated. The original Tea House is not heated in the winter months and was not designed for daily activities or large groups. The Visitor Centre houses the only year-round washrooms on site and has just enough space for souvenir sales and a single office. There is not even enough space for year-round Garden staff or a meeting room on site. Existing Garden facilities are maxed out.

The new Facility will be approximately 465 square metres and provide space year-round for:

– Cultural, historical and horticultural exhibits and programming;

– Events and meetings for public and private functions in the Garden, Park or Community; and

– Publicly accessible washrooms.

Aside from the 10 per cent contribution from the City for Facility construction, the Society has asked for a one-time additional support of $99,000, over and above annual funding, to assist with the transition in operations in the first year of the new facility. After that, they will reassess the funds they need from the City in the next budget cycle, with the intent to reduce their ask.

Councillor Belinda Crowson noted during the recent debate that the NYJGS operates Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden for far less cost than if the City were to run operations itself.

Given the evidence, it appears that the facility is a good investment that will bring outside dollars into our community and decrease ongoing civic costs for operations, while continuing the respectful relationship we have with those of Japanese ancestry and our “unique history.”

The LTC will continue to seek transparency on Municipal Government expenditures and decisions.

For more factual information on the above, including supporting documents, please visit http://www.TransparencyCouncil.com.

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please – does anyone really come to lethbridge because they hear the nyjg exists here? a real bucket list winner, eh? does anyone really come to lethbridge for anything other than costco? look at the numbers: on any given long weekend, lethbridge loses numbers as people flock away to prettier vistas; bars and restaurants are at fraction capacity, streets are vacant, traffic sparser, and all this despite that awesome billboard advertising campaign imploring folks in their cars to “come to lethbridge for a good time.”
if nyjg is making money, no need to pick the pockets of our well overspent public trough.

Seth Anthony

Agreed on all counts Biff.

I call BS on those numbers too.


a taxpayer must wonder what was the real original purpose of the gas tax we thought Govt said it was to build all roadways. The municipalities thru their federation of municipalities (FCM) lobbied the Feds for these tax dollars for any new city projects you know cycle trails etc.when did you see a bicycle
at a fuel pump. How are they going to tax all-electric vehicles for road use? we believe that $2M
could be better spent on our terrible roadways which our Infrastructure Director should be fired for a lousy job. just wondering.

Dennis Bremner

Not sure the author is aware but Mayor Spearman approved/ organized a Hotel to act as Bicycle repair and chop shop directly across the street from Henderson Lake. The owners of the Repair shop will come and pick up your bike at all hours of the night whether you want them to or not! That should attract more people to the pool area, baseball diamond and nyjg. Just knowing that if they leave their bike unattended for just a moment, some one will come along, and take it in for a repair, is an amazing service!
Well done Council/Mayor!!


We have a cultural center downtown ,that could be used just like any other group , for cultural,historic programing etc.
The current shop has washrooms.
They always use this justification for spending public money: “events and meeting for public and private functions”. Once again using public money that competes with the private sector trying to rent their function room space. How many function rooms are unrented- private or public every night and weekend in Lethbridge ,on average? How many people/volunteer groups could afford to rent this space? Just like the library selling used books really cheap and competing with small business people trying to make a living.
I’m soo tired of this nonsense,over and over. Same old,same old.
The Galt museum has rental space, the cultural center does,a community center on the northside,run by the city does, CASA, city hall ; the list goes on and on. But no the taxpayer needs to pay for more”events and meeting for public and private functions”. What a load of crap. Just across the lake we will have eventually a convention center.
I’m very disappointed in the transparency group’s logic here or train of thought.