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City of Lethbridge to provide emergency funding for Agri-food Hub & Trade Centre if province chips in

The City of Lethbridge has allocated funding for its Agri-food Hub and Trade Centre, but is counting on the province to hand over some money too. The City of Lethbridge has allocated funding for its Agri-food Hub and Trade Centre, but is counting on the province to hand over some money too.

The future of the Lethbridge and District Exhibition could lie in the hands of the Alberta government and whether or not they choose to provide additional funding for un-budgeted costs from the construction of the Agri-food Hub and Trade Centre.

On Tuesday, Lethbridge city council voted to provide emergency capital funding and a one-year deferral of loan payments to the Lethbridge and District Exhibition, contingent on the provincial government providing matching capital support.

Mike Warkentin, The Exhibition's CEO, made a presentation to council on Tuesday night, asking for either an additional $6.7 million or a $2.08 million grant, along with a four-year debt deferral totalling $4.6 million, to be paid at the end of The Exhibition’s loan.

Warkentin said inflation, a rise in interest rates and building-specific operational requirements are to blame for the budget shortfalls.

However, after a lengthy meeting, council approved a resolution brought forward by Coun. Rajko Dodic to provide a $1.16 million of a $2.08 million capital grant to cover the capital shortfall, only if the province agrees to fund the second half of the grant request, before Dec. 11.

“The city has had the same problems as The Exhibition has had in terms of COVID and cost overruns and things like that,” Dodic said.

“The province is in a better position to fund a portion of the project than we are so we are just asking them to be our partner in this.”

If the province provides the money, the city will provide a debt deferral for two semi-annual loan payments of $583,000.

“It’s obviously disappointing for us not having certainty today,” Warkentin said following Tuesday’s meeting.

“As we mentioned in there, this conversation has been going on for 18 months. What I can say is it is uplifting to know that there’s optimism and there’s a willingness to find a solution from the City of Lethbridge and a willingness to work together.”

When asked during the meeting by Mayor Blaine Hyggen what would happen if The Exhibition didn’t receive the funding, Warkentin replied, “It would put us in critical situation financially where we would be in a place where we would have to look at a very limited number of options for the future sustainability of our organization.”

Additional capital costs, as well as the expense of maintaining the old pavilions, has depleted The Exhibition’s reserves.

Council also approved up to $500,000 in interim funding to take over and maintain the old pavilions, excluding the West Pavilion, if the province agrees to provide additional funding.

If the provincial government assists in the ask, the city would then provide up to $300,000 on an independent third-party review of The Exhibition’s operational and financial plan.

“The Lethbridge and District Exhibition is a worthy project and I continue to believe that,” Dodic said. “I’m hoping to province will believe in it as we do, but believe in it in a financial way as well.”

The city has previously provided $25 million for the construction of the Agri-food Hub and Trade Centre, while the province chipped in with $27.8 million.

The matter will now go to the city’s asset and infrastructure SPC meeting on Dec. 7 for public feedback, before going back to council on Dec. 12. Top Stories

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