The Lethbridge and District Exhibition is looking to get $4.68 million from the city to offset changes in the total cost of the new Agrifood Hub and Trade Centre. The additional money, if approved, would be used to decommission three old buildings on the site, according to CEO Mike Warkentin. He made a presentation to the city’s economic standing policy committee on March 15 to lay out the funding request.
He said the demolition is necessary and if it is not done, there could be significant impacts on the new facility’s operation, both from budget requirements to keep them standing and lost parking space potential.
“Obviously there is health and safety risk there, those buildings are approaching the end of useful life and that was part of the reason for building new,” he said. “There is a significant operational challenge involved with maintaining those buildings and keeping them up. It’s not as simple as just turning them off.”
Committee members questioned whether there is a way the Exhibition could do the needed work without the additional funds from the city.
“At this point in time I do not believe there’s a scenario that we can go forward without this funding. From an operational perspective, long term, there is but we need to get this centre open and performing before we will see those benefits that could come later from a fully functional, state of the art convention centre here in town,” Warkentin said.
He added if council does not approve the money before summer, the conversation could turn into talks about the organization’s operational budget to account for the buildings not being decommissioned.
The Agrifood Hub was originally slated to cost $70.6 million and the cost has inflated to just under $80 million, according to Warkentin. The cost was split up between the province ($27.8 million), the city ($25 million) and municipal borrowing ($17.8 million.)
Warkentin said the increased price tag is a result of challenges such as a labour shortage. There is a funding request on the table from the Exhibition to the province for $6.3 million, which Warkentin said he has been in talks about with both the UCP and official opposition to prepare for whatever results come out of the upcoming election.
The committee did not carry a recommendation to bring to council, but rather directed city administration to work with the Exhibition on a potential plan for multiple payments, rather than a lump sum. The work will include bringing timelines, milestones and an operational forecast back to the committee for consideration.