Alberta ag venue receives infrastructure funds

Lethbridge Exhibition chief operating officer Mike Warkentin shows an artist’s rendition of the planned new look for Exhibition Park. The provincial government recently announced a $27.5 million investment in the $70 million project that will increase the size of the Lethbridge venue and allow it to attract more national and international events.  |  Barb Glen photo

Funding for Lethbridge’s Exhibition Park is part of an effort to help provincial economy recover from COVID shutdown

The financial floodgates have opened in Alberta as the government rolls out a recovery plan that will see $10 billion spent on various infrastructure projects.

Lethbridge’s Exhibition Park was among the first recipients June 30 when Premier Jason Kenney announced the venue will receive $27.8 million from the province toward a $70.5 million expansion plan.

Exhibition Park, also known as the Lethbridge and District Exhibition, is the base for Ag Expo, the annual agricultural trade show, as well as other trade shows, events and Whoop Up Days, the summer festival and midway that this year was cancelled due to COVID-19.

“This project will bring a long overdue renewal and major expansion to Exhibition Park, right here, providing more indoor and outdoor space for large events like festivals, like Whoop Up days, for fairs and agricultural shows,” Kenney said as he stood in the park’s Heritage Hall.

Plans to upgrade and expand the park have been on the drawing board for more than a decade, said Exhibition chief operating officer Mike Warkentin.

“This project has been in the works for over 14 years, from the original idea and feasibility studies and then location surveys and multiple iterations of the design,” he said.

“Today’s announcement paves the way for the creation of an agricultural food hub here at Exhibition Park that will showcase the efforts of southern Alberta farmers and ranchers, expedite trade of products to domestic and foreign markets, incubate new agri-food products and provide market access to stand-alone businesses, but most importantly facilitate new job creation and investment into this community.”

Warkentin said federal infrastructure funding might also be accessed to pay for the rest of the project, plus long-term operating capital from the Exhibition itself.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, left, and Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman share a laugh June 30 after Kenney announced a $27.8 million government investment into upgrades and facility expansion at Exhibition Park in Lethbridge. | Barb Glen photo

Construction could start as early as this fall. Kenney said one of this project’s attributes was the fact that it is “shovel ready” and will boost the economy as the province recovers from the COVID-19 economic downturn. The build is expected to create 400 construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs one finished.

Capacity of the park, both inside and outside, will be increased so it can attract more national and international events. The food production area will also be expanded and is expected to provide experience to the Lethbridge College culinary students.

“It’s hard to overstate how important Exhibition Park is to Lethbridge, socially and economically,” said Lethbridge East MLA Nathan Neudorf.

Kenney said the announcement was the first of many planned to restart the economy and many more are planned in coming weeks and months.

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