By Lethbridge Herald on December 12, 2023.
Al Beeber – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – email@example.com
The province of Alberta has turned down a request to provide emergency funding to the Lethbridge and District Exhibition, questioning the viability of its business plan for the Agri-Food Hub and Trade Centre.
A deadline of Monday midnight passed for the province to agree to pay half of a capital grant of $2,081,093 for the Exhibition to cover its capital shortfall.
On Tuesday afternoon as mayor Blaine Hyggen was reading a resolution regarding the Exhibition’s shortfall from councillor Jenn Schmidt-Rempel, council went into a break at the request of city manager Lloyd Brierley.
Upon return, Hyggen announced the province, in a letter addressed to him from Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation RJ Sigurdson, had announced the decision to not provide the requested money.
The letter from Sigurdson says in part “the province’s decision to invest in the Agri-Food Hub was part of the province’s pandemic response plan. The investment was specifically aimed at stimulating the agriculture and agri-food industry. This was possible through the coordination between the Ministries of Agriculture and Irrigation and the Treasury Board and Finance as well as between the province and the City of Lethbridge.
“Based on the city resolution on November 28, the original request for $1,040,546 in matching capital funding by December 11, 2023 was carefully considered. The Ministry also notes the assessment by the City that a larger financial shortfall exists that would require further funding to ensure the Agri-Food Hub can continue to operate based on the current business plan.
“Because the viability of the current business plan is in doubt, the province declines to provide the requested $1,040,546.50 to the city. The province hopes to see the Agri-Food Hub remain an asset for the agriculture and agri-food community therefore the Minister will seek to work with the Lethbridge and District Exhibition and City of Lethbridge on a comprehensive needs assessment and revised business plan to ensure the success of this vital agricultural asset,” reads the letter.
The City later released a statement from the mayor in response to the announcement from the province.
“The Agri-food Hub & Trade Centre is a world-class facility that presents tremendous opportunity for our community. Council has been, and continues to be, strong supporters of this project,” said Hyggen in the statement.
“It’s important that we protect the significant financial investment the City has made in this project, as well as the investments the Provincial Government and other funders have made in our community as we all look for ways to move forward in a positive way.”
Exhibition CEO Mike Warkentin was asked by Deputy Mayor Mark Campbell where the organization stands financially as of Tuesday and how much longer it can operate.
Warkentin told council the Exhibition will make its debt payment to the City by Friday adding that “puts us into a dire financial situation going into the new year.” He said the Exhibition board will be meeting Thursday to discuss the “finite timeline that represents.”
He added that timeline is “critical.”
Hyggen asked Warkentin specifically the dollar amount the Exhibition has left, saying a lot of different numbers have been heard.
He also asked if every commitment has been paid aside from payroll and monthly ongoing costs.
The CEO responded “I do have that answer, I don’t have that answer with me today so I apologize not being prepared to speak,” adding he’d be happy to follow up with council on that exact dollar figure.
“What I can say is our cashflow, which is projected out into the new year which I mentioned to Deputy Mayor Campbell is critical, does include the payment of all the trades on the project, the continued payment of our payroll and that debt payment.”
Hyggen asked Warkentin “for the sake of all transparency, we’re not having someone come put liens on the building et cetera? These have been taken care of through reserves?”
The CEO said not everyone has been paid yet but everyone “is projected to be paid in our remaining cashflow out of our reserves.”
Hyggen asked if the CEO is left with enough money for payroll moving forward and Warkentin replied “yes for a finite amount of time and that’s where I need to meet with the board before I release what that date actually is and (what) that true timeline is.”
The CEO said in response to a question by Hyggen regarding the comment made by Sigurdson about the business plan being in doubt that “I believe that that business plan has had a lot of things change outside of our control as I’ve mentioned in previous meetings. I believe that given the opportunity to see all the elements of that business plan through to fruition, there is a successful model there but it will take some significant time.”