February 24th, 2024

City protecting investment in trade centre, says mayor


By Lethbridge Herald on December 19, 2023.

Mayor Blaine Hyggen meets with reporters to discuss emergency interim financial that support city council has approved for the Lethbridge and District Exhibition during a press conference Tuesday at City Hall. Herald photo by Al Beeber

Al Beeber – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – abeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

The City of Lethbridge has an investment in the Lethbridge & District Exhibition and wants to protect that investment, mayor Blaine Hyggen told reporters Tuesday afternoon a day after council threw that organization a financial lifeline.

The assistance includes an emergency operating grant of $250,000 and the City will also set aside up to $950,000 in contingency held under its control for verified emergent needs with that money coming from the Municipal Revenue Stabilization Reserve.

A resolution approved Monday by council also calls for an independent third party review of the Exhibition to be conducted with the Phase 1 report to be presented at the Nov. 14, 2024 meeting of the Economic and Financial Standing Policy Committee of council.

And council approved an interim governance body that will exclude any previous board members to ensure a clean slate, a point reiterated by the mayor in the City Hall foyer.

In a statement of its own  on behalf of board of directors president Mark Sayers, the Exhibition said in a release that “Lethbridge & District Exhibition appreciates the City of Lethbridge’s commitment to finding an operational solution that is in the best interests of our organization, the City, the region, and the Agri-food Hub & Trade Centre. We look forward to working together in a spirit of collaboration to create solutions that will benefit the community for years to come. 

The mayor said “we do have an investment so we want to make sure that investment is protected. Of course it comes from taxation” so it’s prudent for council to make sure it is watching that investment, he noted.

“So of course there’s an interest that we have in making sure that the organization is successful,” he said of the Exhibition.

An MOU has to come back to the City by Jan. 19 with council to address it on Jan. 23.

“The main thing is we want to start with a clean slate, be very transparent, accountable so for that reason, we’ll be starting with a clean slate as long as that MOU comes back, he said, that MOU being developed jointly by the Exhibition and City.

When asked what transpired since Aug. 10, 2020 when then-CEO Mike Warkentin told council in response to a question from then mayor Chris Spearman that the costs of demolishing three pavilions would be included in the $70 million capital cost of the Agri-Food Hub and Trade centre to November when Warkentin returned for council asking the City to immediately take over the old pavilions, the mayor said “I would like to say that I know that. And this is why we are where we are today. We believe too and there’s a cost, whether it was a million dollars which went up to 8, 9, 10 million dollars for that deconstruction. I don’t know where that break down is,” said the mayor.

“This is something where the review is going to look into this. Because it’s tough to put and maybe this isn’t the right word, good dollars after bad dollars” but before any  additional investment is made, that review is needed, said the mayor.

The mayor said the City had the same red flags “on a community level” about the Exhibition that the province did when it declined to provide grant money due to concerns with the business plan for the Hub.

But he said the public won’t see any difference in the day-to-day operations at the trade centre.

“The events will continue to run and operate and that was the main reason why we needed to have some emergency funding in place. If we did not, and this was to, for lack of better words, the keys were handed back over to the City, these events could be cancelled. This would leave a void within our community”  because those who go to events such as Ag-Expo, farmers markets, the home and garden show, and Whoop-Up Days wouldn’t have the opportunity, said the mayor.

“For accountability and transparency, it is absolutely the best decision moving forward without a doubt,” he said of council’s resolution on Monday.

He said the original business plan years ago looked sustainable and was reviewed by accountants “so the information brought forward was what we went with.. . 

“It’s just unfortunate we’re at where we are,” added the mayor, pointing out COVID-19, construction costs and other things played roles in the current situation.

The review will dig into some of that information: ”why did we get to where we are today, what can we do better so that, of course, these dollars aren’t continually coming from the taxpayer,” said the mayor who emphasized he believes in the Hub project.

“We need to protect not only our investment but our partners’ investment” with the province putting $27 million into the hub project, he noted.

“This isn’t an easy day and one that I definitely didn’t want to see come to pass.”

The mayor said “I’m really looking forward to this review” adding the City wants to make sure the review is a transparent process.

Councillor Belinda Crowson told media that the City has a long history of helping out the Exhibition including in 1920 when the Exhibition board handed over keys to the City. The City also bailed out the Exhibition during the Great Depression and ran it during the Second World War until 1947. The City bailed out the Exhibition again in 1992 when it was in trouble, she pointed out.

“We’ve always fixed the problems together and the Exhibition and the City have always worked together.”

She said 20 per cent of the City’s economic base is agriculture – a figure which is much higher in the surrounding  area. 

Crowson  said the agriculture community is coming through difficult times but “there’s so much potential.”

 She said the City needs to see what the business plan looks like and while people want to use it for events, its main focus needs to be on agriculture through such events as Ag-Expo and Whoop-Up Days – and not on competing with other sites doing conferences and other types of events.

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Citi Zen

The original business plan that was done years back was obviously done by persons not fully competent, and did not consider the consequences of making unsupported forecasts.
Yes, the City has an investment here, but should reconsider throwing endless taxpayer funds at it. Turn it over to a private operator, who will have the smarts to make it profitable. That is not City Council.

ewingbt

I am happy that I am not on Council for this one! It is tough and I do not want to see endless amounts of tax dollars thrown at this $76 million facility.
There will be benefits to this city for decades, but we need to make sure that since it is our tax dollars, we have local government oversight. This was built with taxpayer dollars and we need to be involved.
I trust Council in making the right decisions, some right decisions have already been implemented.

Canesfan

I agree. The Exhibition is a separate entity and the city administrators are the ones who uncovered this fabricated mess created by the bungling ceo. I also trust them to figure it out. The former ceo should be run out of town and held personally liable for this disaster.

pursuit diver

Without exaggerating, the opioid crisis has cost us more than $80 million since 2016, with a loss of $26 million of taxpayer dollars just from the SCS alone.
At least we will get some revenues generated from this as the venue is booked with events, which will bring in other revenues for the community.
It is not a money pit like all the funds we spend to counter the impacts of the drug/crime crisis.
Millions are spent annually on fire/EMS and police services alone, now add to that all the non-profits supported by tax dollars, funding for businesses to add fences/roll up shutters/alarms/etc., and Clean Sweep, D.O.T., and city services cleaning up the mess and on and on.
This Agri-Hub and Trade Center will bring in revenues and be positive for our city. To not fund it would be a mistake. Please there are a couple of Councilors that shouldn’t have any part of the oversight of this though and I do not want to name them. The two are always against positive actions in this city.

Learjet

LOL… you may get “revenues” but if the expenses are even more, that’s not sustainable.

biff

should make a great one stop serves all for the destitute of the city. should move city hall over there, too, so that we get some consistent use out of that ridiculous white elephant.

gs172

Ok fair enough you want to protect the citizens of lethbridge assets, do that. But do that without putting much more on the plate of taxpayers. Remember you just approved a 20% increase in taxes over 4 years.