Big boost for Exhibition Park

The Exhibition Park Exolution upgrade got a super charge from the provincial government to help transform it into a world class agrifood hub right here in Lethbridge.

Premier Jason Kenney and Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshan announced $27.8 million in funding for the project at a special press conference at the park’s Heritage Hall on Tuesday.

The $70 million Exolution project would create an new premier conference centre on site which is hoped will serve as a driving engine of agrifood development in the region for decades to come.

Kenney credited the staunch advocacy of MLA Nathan Neudorf and Mayor Chris Spearman and Lethbridge city council for helping convince his government this was the stimulus project for Lethbridge at this time of economic uncertainty.

“We’re looking for shovel-ready projects that are going to get people back to work right away,” Kenney said, “but will also enhance longterm economic productivity and diversification of Alberta’s economy. And also projects that will meet the goals of our different sector strategies that we announced (on Monday). This project hit all of those marks. It is well-advanced. It will create great jobs over the next 18 months to help us counteract the huge COVID recession. Long term it will have other jobs added to Exhibition Park as a result, but most importantly it reinforces Lethbridge and southern Alberta as a key hub for the agricultural industry, for global marketing and for food science, and all the related industries.”

Kenney said Lethbridge and region had already proven itself as a key launching pad for attracting agricultural investment to Alberta and Canada, and his government was pleased to add to the momentum with this substantial infrastructure investment, which will also help the local construction industry by creating an estimated 400 jobs.

Mayor Chris Spearman praised the province for seeing the need to help catalyze economic growth in the region, and for coming through on this massive stimulus project in a time of great need in the local economy.

“This is another example of promise made, promise kept,” said Spearman. “This is tremendous for the City of Lethbridge. The provincial government’s commitment today speaks volumes to the potential of this project and the hard work and innovative people of Lethbridge and southern Alberta to make this happen.”

Spearman also commended the Exhibition Park board and staff for visionary thinking in advancing the Exolution project to help pave the way for the future of agricultural growth and development in the region.

Exhibition Park chief operating officer Mike Warkentin thanked the province for its “phenomenal contribution” and “vote of confidence” in the project. He also hoped Spearman’s encouraging remarks would translate into more support from the City to come up with a substantial portion of the other $42 million needed to see that vision come to life.

“We are hoping to get some municipal funding from the City, and we are working with City administration right now to find creative ways to come up with that money so it doesn’t directly impact the taxpayer,” he said. “We are also hoping to be able to tap into some of the COVID relief the federal government has announced. We are still waiting on the details of that program. There is also likely to be a contribution from Exhibition Park on an operating basis to pay for this moving forward.”

Warkentin said Exhibition Park was determined to get shovels in the ground this fall if all comes together, whether that means getting started on the full project or taking a more phased approach.

“We are looking at what this would look like with $27 million or $40 million, or the full amount, or more,” he said. “We do have multiple scenarios on what the full project could look like, and we are targeting that $70 million number.”

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