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City Council to provide emergency funding for Agri-food Hub & Trade Centre if Province matches City's capital support

City Council voted today to provide emergency capital funding and a one-year deferral of loan payments to the Lethbridge & District Exhibition, contingent on the Provincial Government providing matching capital support.

Exhibition representatives were before City Council requesting $6.7 million which is required for the Lethbridge & District Exhibition to continue operating the new Agri-food Hub and Trade Centre.

Council approved a one-year deferral of loan payments owed to the City at a cost of $1.16 million if the Province of Alberta agrees to fund the second half of the $2.08 million capital grant request, before December 11, 2023. Council also approved up to $500,000 in interim operating funding to the Lethbridge & District Exhibition to maintain the old pavilions and to move forward with a third-party review of the Agri-food Hub & Trade Centre’s operations.

“The City of Lethbridge is fully supportive of the Agri-food Hub & Trade Centre and its success,” says Councillor Rajko Dodic, who brought forward the approved motion. “But we also have to be good stewards of the limited funds we have to support our community. All of the funding partners made decisions to support this project based on the information they had at the time and now we all need to work together to find a successful path forward.”

Lethbridge & District Exhibition cited the impact of inflation, interest rates, supply chain issues and other lingering COVID-19 impacts as causes of the budget shortfalls. Additional capital costs, as well as the expense of maintaining the old pavilions, has depleted the Exhibition’s reserves which means they would be unable to move forward without additional financial support.

The City of Lethbridge has already contributed $25 million toward the overall cost of the Agri-food Hub and Trade Centre and provided further support by securing a loan of $17.824 million on behalf of the Exhibition for their portion of the project. This loan was to be paid back to the City of Lethbridge in semi-annual instalments, which began in December 2022. 

In a presentation from City administration, Council also heard of many underlying costs that may further impact the financial commitment required from the City for this project - estimated to grow to more than $22 million if council had approved the full request. To further investigate this, City Council also approved a third-party review of the Agri-food Hub and Trade Centre’s finances and operations.

“This is a community asset, and we are accountable to our residents to protect that investment as well as the investments by the Province of Alberta and other funders,” says Mayor Blaine Hyggen. “This review will help all parties fully understand the big picture so sound decisions can be made on how to make the facility sustainable moving forward.”

The City of Lethbridge owns the land the Agri-food Hub & Trade Centre is built on and provides the Lethbridge & District Exhibition $256,000 annually in fee-for-service funding, specifically designated for capital life-cycling.

Recognizing the impact of this decision on the community, Council also approved adding the Lethbridge & District Exhibition to the December 7, 2023 Asset and Infrastructure Standing Policy Committee to allow community members to provide their feedback.

In March of 2023, the Lethbridge & District Exhibition presented to the City’s Economic Standing Policy Committee seeking funding for the demolition of the old Main, North and South pavilions still standing on the site. In May, Council brought forward a motion to investigate the repurposing of the pavilions rather than demolition. A feasibility study is still underway to explore this option.

Construction on the Agri-food Hub & Trade Centre began in March 2021, and cost $77.3 million to complete. The facility features a state-of-the-art audio-visual system, 104,000 square feet of trade floor space, four banquet salons, four meeting rooms, and outdoor patio areas, which doubles Lethbridge & District Exhibition’s previous hosting capacity.

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