A ceremonial sod turning March 31 marked the construction start of a Lethbridge and District Exhibition project 18 years in the making.
The $70.5 million project involves building a 268,000 sq. foot building dubbed the Agri-food Hub and Trade Centre. It is expected to create about 400 construction jobs in the short term and 50 permanent positions at completion in early 2023.
Alberta premier Jason Kenney said at a sod-turning ceremony that the project was “really good news that comes at a time when our province needs good news,” given an economy beleaguered by the energy sector downturn and pandemic-imposed economic pressures.
He lauded the region’s agricultural production and said the new facility would serve as an anchor for growth in southern Alberta’s value-added food sector.
The hub will double current hosting capacity at the exhibition. Among its many usual events — many curtailed by the pandemic this year — are Ag Expo and the Lethbridge Home and Garden Show, which typically attract thousands of vendors and visitors annually.
Other trade shows, 4-H events and agriculture-related events are also held at the venue. Currently, it is the site for Alberta Health Services COVID-19 vaccinations.
The new building will allow events with up to 7,000 people and could generate more than $90 million per year to the regional economy, according to Lethbridge Exhibition estimates.
“It’s been an 18-year journey of people who were committed to and understand the importance of this project, and I’m humbled to be the person who gets to stand here at the moment and represent the organization,” said Lethbridge Exhibition board chair Bev Lanz.
She said the new building is positioned to look westward to Henderson Lake, a key part of the community that includes a walking path, park and playground area and which hosts various festivals and events.
The fate of the current Lethbridge Exhibition complex has not been fully determined, said Lanz. None of it will be directly connected to the new building but Heritage Hall, a historically significant portion, will be retained.
Lethbridge mayor Chris Spearman said he expects the new facility to foster economic growth for the city and region. The city invested some $25 million into the project and will retain ownership of the land.
“It will attract more traffic both from within the community, but more importantly from throughout the world, to come to Lethbridge. This will generate more direct flights to our city, increase demand for hotels and generate new investment in our community,” said Spearman.
The Lethbridge and District Exhibition will celebrate its 125 anniversary in 2022.