By Jensen, Randy on August 25, 2020.
Lethbridge City Council voted unanimously to give the Lethbridge and District Exhibition a $17.8-million guaranteed loan to complete work on its new event centre and agrifood hub, and also approved a grant of $25 million which will come from existing City funding sources.
During Monday’s city council meeting councillors also voted to 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.
Mayor Chris Spearman applauded his fellow councillors for voting to invest in this “catalytic project,” which would benefit the entire region’s agriculture and agri-food economy when completed.
“I believe it can be something we build on,” Spearman said. “It’s not just the construction, and the jobs that will be created afterword – we can design our whole marketing strategy for the region for the investment around agriculture. And we will have something physically there to tie to it. I think there is a strategy which can be developed all around agriculture and value-added processing, which I think will be great for this community.”
Spearman emphasized again neither the $25-million grant or the $17.8-million loan would not add to the tax burden of Lethbridge residents. The grants would come from existing funding sources, and the loan would be maintenanced by the Lethbridge and District Exhibition. He did admit, though, it might seriously curtail what monies would be available for other local grants in the city going into the future.
“What we are doing is tying up all our available grant money,” he said, “or most of it, and associating it with one project, so recognizing future spending on CIP projects is going to be very tight.”
Spearman also recognized the substantial contribution from the Alberta government of $27.8 million, and said the province and City of Lethbridge were on the same page when it came to understanding the importance of the project.
“What we are doing is supporting the provincial strategy in terms of developing projects that will attract matching, private-sector investments,” he explained. “We want to make sure we have something that excites the private sector, that they can be part of as well. Not just any future private-sector investments specifically associated with whatever the Exhibition may come up with, but also in related industries. Not only major investments like we have seen in potato processing and canola, but also the subsidiary businesses that develop every time you expand your industrial base. I think there is a huge opportunity here, and it could be something that benefits the region and the City of Lethbridge for decades.”
Exhibition Park chief operating officer Mike Warkentin was understandably thrilled with the city council decision to become a strong partner in this endeavour, and said with the financing now lined up they anticipated beginning construction by April 2021 on the $72-million facility.
“This decision by council today will transcend generations for this community,” he said. “The reality of today’s decision is the hard work begins now to deliver on this, and actually make this the catalytic project it is. We have all the faith in the world we will be able to do that.”
Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter