Community benefit guides Council’s decision to approve agreement with Exhibition
Today, Lethbridge City Council voted 7-2 in favour of entering into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Lethbridge & District Exhibition (LDE). Subject to the Government of Alberta approving the proposed MOU, the agreement will create an interim governance structure comprised of City of Lethbridge and Lethbridge County administration. This group will focus on building a viable business model and governance structure for the organization and ensuring the Agri-food Hub & Trade Centre is best serving the region.
“Council’s job is to make decisions that are in the best interest of the entire community and that’s what we did today,” says Mayor Blaine Hyggen. “We have painstakingly weighed all of the risks and benefits of every conceivable scenario and at the end of the day, the approved MOU is the best option for Lethbridge and southern Alberta. We recognize that this is a fantastic facility with great potential, and it is vital that we make the most of this opportunity.”
In December 2023, LDE came to City Council with a letter of intent requesting operational, governance and financial support. Council directed LDE and City administration to develop an MOU for consideration at today’s Council meeting. The approved MOU sets in motion the asks in the letter of intent including:
- Redemption of shares from current LDE shareholders to the City of Lethbridge
- Appointment of an interim governance body made up of City of Lethbridge and Lethbridge County administration
- Third-party review of LDE operations
“While this is not a position we ever wanted to be in, the City is committed to making sure we do everything we can to minimize the impact on our community,” says City Manager, Lloyd Brierley. “The new LDE governance body will ensure the interests of residents are at the centre of all decisions moving forward.”
In early January, two full-time City staff were seconded to the Agri-food Hub & Trade Centre to provide interim leadership support to LDE. With additional financial planning support from the City, LDE has developed a revised 2024 operating budget, with an estimated current shortfall of $6.5 million per year. Considering reserves remaining within LDE and previously allocated funding, City Council approved $3.8 million in additional funds required for 2024.
Future decisions will need to be made on the decommissioning of the old pavilions and parking lot refurbishing.
“The reality is, we would have to pay this much, or more, if we didn’t sign the MOU and we would be in jeopardy of losing all of the benefits LDE and the Agri-food Hub bring to the quality of life in our community,” says Deputy Mayor, Mark Campbell. “From AgExpo and Whoop Up Days to our weekly Farmers Markets, the events and activities at the Exhibition create a vibrant and connected community. LDE creates jobs, both within the organization and all those contracted or associated with the events hosted there. The Agri-food Hub also attracts visitors and investors to Lethbridge. These are just a snippet of the many things that have a far-reaching positive impact on our city.”
Working together with the knowledgeable and dedicated LDE staff, the City has quickly gained better insight into the operations, limitations and opportunities at the facility.
“There has been a lot of information sharing and discovery over the last few weeks,” says Kim Gallucci, Interim Transition Leader at LDE. “The staff are working hard to successfully execute the many events happening at the Agri-food Hub, while at the same time, exploring new ideas to find efficiencies and additional revenue opportunities that will improve operations going forward.”
One of those discoveries is the understanding that the building is unsuitable to hold livestock, limiting some agricultural uses it was expected to be to be able to support. The interim leadership team will be working to explore other possibilities onsite to accommodate these types of activities.
“Despite the setbacks, the reason this facility was built, still exists today,” says Mayor Hyggen. “It is a world class amenity right here in our community. We’re committed to protecting the investments made by the City, the Alberta government and other funding partners while amplifying the benefits LDE brings to our residents. This is the best community solution moving forward.”
The Agri-food Hub & Trade Centre continues to be busy, hosting four major events in the last week alone. The Irrigated Crop Production Update, Alberta Food & Beverage Expo, Malanka – Ukrainian New Year’s Celebration, and the Provincial Agricultural Service Boards conference have combined to bring thousands of visitors to the venue. The facility will also host one of its signature events, a sold-out AgExpo, in February 27-29.
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