February 21st, 2024

Province won’t help Exhibition over business plan viability


By Lethbridge Herald on December 12, 2023.

The province 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. Herald photo by Al Beeber

Al Beeber – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – abeeber@lethbridgeherald.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.”

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Canesfan

Pardon me. “…I don’t have that answer with me… I wasn’t prepared to speak” What??! When you know it is the most pivotal day for your organization wouldn’t you come prepared? Time to change the CEO and the entire board. The city and province exposed this, now they need to clean house.

Creiderson

Had to be the sadest part for the employee union at exibition park. Seeing top guy ill prepared. Could hint to the realities of the non viable biz plan. Shiny facility just needs new and proper operater.

Chmie

The City needs to take responsibility for their lack of oversight on the project that they funded. Why in GGE would you give money to fund a project when you haven’t done your due diligence to ensure that it is a viable going forward. Now the taxpayer will be on the hook for their incompetence. Election can’t come fast enough.

buckwheat

Trades haven’t been paid. Normal flow, draws go to general contractors, payments made to trades based on completion of purchase orders etc. Meantime general holds draw in account making interest. Time to pay the labour and not with the reserves. Contractors should be told no more money.

Lethbridgian

Hard to support this when they chose to build it using a very energy inefficient building envelope (primarily glass) and they keep all the lights on at night.

JustObserving

Hold on to your wallets folks….we are going to be taken for an expensive ride bailing out the Ex and keeping the lights on at this monument to fiscal stupidity……

snowman

what about the $ 17 million the council borrowed, to pay this debt payment charged to property tax? Like the $ 16 million the Council borrowed to collect 5,000 tonnes of residential Recyclable program charged to property tax. Citizens have not seen financial reports for the past two years, what are they hiding? Citizens have a right to know Come on financial man give out the figures, we wait.

Montreal13

thank you ,Snowman for following this typical picture. Too many chiefs at city hall that are good at trying to cover their tracks.