By Lethbridge Herald on March 9, 2020.
City council has again deferred making a decision on whether or not to continue capital funding for a new community facility at Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden.
The decision to keep or cancel Capital Improvement Project funding for the new facility was initially brought forward at the Feb. 24 council meeting before being deferred until March 9. City council will now decide the fate of the project at the March 23 council meeting.
The two-week postponement will allow the Lethbridge and District Japanese Garden Society to make one more special presentation to council on its plans, and how the new facility would operate once completed, prior to that council meeting.
Information presented at council on Monday could weigh heavily in that conversation. The Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden received a $200,000 operating increase in the 2018 city council budget from $133,000 to $333,000 per year. Originally council was told when the society made its pitch to council for CIP funding that the new facility would not alter the garden’s operating budget.
Council was told on Monday new information received from the society this year includes an ask for another $100,000 in operating budget increase by 2022, to a total of just over $432,000, before revenues recouped from the new cafe and other tourist spending at the site would bring that annual operating budget down to an estimated $404,500 by 2023 and beyond.
Colin Hirano, a director on the board of the Japanese Garden Society, acknowledged there was a lot on the line with this final chance to make a special presentation to council on the garden’s expansion.
“Personally, I think it is good we’re going to have a chance to explain what exactly we can offer to the community with this project,” he said. “And we are hopeful that once that is made clear (council) will see the value in the project. Our view is that the Japanese Garden is one of the leading tourist attractions in Lethbridge, and improving on it can only help grow southern Alberta, and Lethbridge in particular, as a tourist attraction. In addition to that, I think it has the ability to help people, even in the city, enjoy the Japanese Garden and provide an anchor for the city; especially around Henderson Lake where that has been a lot of (tourism) development with the pool.”
With the City facing increasing financial challenges, Hirano was asked why this project was something that needed to be built now; especially in light of the estimated increase in operating costs to run such a facility post-construction.
“The increase in funding we saw previously (in 2018) that comes after a period in which the society did not see a significant increase,” Hirano said, “so, in my view, that was a much-needed adjustment to reflect the changing realities of the cost of employees and the cost of actually operating the garden. This further increase that we would be seeking; it is our view it is quite nominal. Our projections are for the first year it’s operational it would be somewhere around $99,000. And based off projections, we would generate income from this (facility), and that additional amount would reduce over the years.”
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