By Jensen, Randy on August 13, 2020.
The Lethbridge and District Exhibition is seeking a $17.8-million guaranteed loan from the City of Lethbridge to complete work on its new event centre and agrifood hub, and is asking city council to honour a $25-million grant commitment previously made in 2017 for the same purpose.
Exhibition Park chief operating officer Mike Warkentin and Lethbridge and District Exhibition president Bruce Galts made the requests of council during Monday’s regular meeting.
In addition, Warkentin and Galts requested city council forgive a previous city loan of about $3.8 million in return for title to 155 acres of land the Exhibition owns outside of the fair grounds, and to enter into a 50-year lease agreement for the current grounds on behalf of the corporation for the City of Lethbridge.
Warkentin stressed with the province recently coming through on a $27.8-million grant to help with the work, now was the time to get construction underway on the new event centre.
He said they hoped to begin the construction work by next year if all the financing could be lined up by then.
According to city treasurer Hailey Pinksen if the City were to make the loan available it would raise the City’s debt limit from its current 37 per cent to 43 per cent. The Exhibition also requested the loan be made payable over 30 years, if it were granted, to make the payments more manageable, and asked the City waive its customary 0.25 per cent administration fee.
The $25-million grant would come from existing money city council has already put aside, but this would also likely take the lion’s share of capital funding currently available for all projects in the city.
Councillors requested additional time to ponder what granting these Exhibition Park requests might mean for the City’s financial position, and postponed decision until at least the next regular council meeting.
Warkentin said to get everything to this point where the new event centre and agrifood hub was almost shovel-ready is exciting for the Lethbridge and District Exhibition, and for all residents of the region.
“This is a project that has been going on for nearly 18 years,” he explained. “So it is very exciting to get to this culmination of it. And it’s certainly exciting for me to be here, and to move this to this point. Something so monumental for the community, that it can have such a positive spinoff for future investment into the community.”
Warkentin acknowledged the recent key contribution from the province for this project which finally got the wheels turning on it in earnest.
“The provincial contribution was obviously a significant step for this project moving forward,” he confirmed. “This project is really about economic development both here as well as the province. It represents over 400 construction jobs and about 50 full-time jobs moving on, with an estimated $25 million in construction labour alone. And obviously the go-forward economic spinoff of that is over $90 million annually within the community; so there is a significant advantage to the community, as well as community members, to have this project move forward.”
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