It was a long one at Council today, and I’ve received some questions tonight as to why I voted the way I did on the resolution Councillor Dodic brought forward regarding Exhibition Park’s request for additional funding. I’d like to take this opportunity to reiterate what I stated in my debate at Council, and why I did not support the motion. For those who were unable to attend, some background information first…
Today, Exhibition Park came forward to Council with an ask for additional funding (https://agendas.lethbridge.ca/AgendaOnline):
- a capital grant in the amount of $6,742,315.72; OR
- a capital grant in the amount of $2,081,093 to cover unfunded capital of construction; and a four-year debt deferral that will be repaid on the back-end of the loan totalling $4,671,309.72.
In addition to one of the above-mentioned options, they also requested the City of Lethbridge immediately take over the old pavilions (excluding the West Pavilion).
Councillor Dodic brought forward the following resolution:
WHEREAS the Lethbridge & District Exhibition has a shortfall with respect to the Agri-Food Hub and Trade Centre Project in both Capital and Operating Costs such that they are unable to continue operations in the near term.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT City Council, contingent on receiving a formal commitment from the Province of Alberta by December 11, 2023 and conditional on the Lethbridge & District Exhibition agreeing to a City-led, independent third-party review, direct Administration to provide:
- 1. A capital grant of $2,081,093.00 (of which $1,040,546.50 is to be provided to the City by the Province) to cover the capital shortfall with the funding to be held in reserve and which can be accessed by the Lethbridge & District Exhibition upon their submitting claims for eligible expenditures for the Agri-Food Hub & Trade Centre Project with funding being provided subject to the amendment of the Agri-Food Hub & Trade Centre Project grant agreement in a form satisfactory to the City Manager; and
Upon confirmation from the Province of Alberta of their financial commitment referred to in item 1 above, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT City Council:
- 2. Interim operational funding up to $500,000 for maintaining the old pavilions with the City’s contribution with one-time funding coming from the Municipal Revenue Stabilization Reserve for which the Lethbridge & District Exhibition will be required to submit claims for the eligible expenditures for the old pavilions with funding being provided subject to the execution of a contribution agreement in a form satisfactory to the City Manager; and
- 3. Defer two of the Lethbridge and District Exhibition’s semi-annual loan payments of $583,913.59 for the period of December 15, 2023, and ending June 15, 2024 by adding two payments (December 15, 2052 and June 15, 2053) plus accrued interest based on the City’s average 10-year investment portfolio yield at the time of deferral, to the Development Loan Agreement between the City of Lethbridge and the Lethbridge and District Exhibition, with the interim funding of $1,167,827.18 (two payments of $583,913.59) from the Municipal Revenue Stabilization Reserve; and
- 4. Authorize the City Manager to retain and work with an independent Third-Party to obtain the information necessary to evaluate and provide recommendations on the strategic and operational planning as well as the financial decision-making of the Lethbridge & District Exhibition to support their ongoing success. The review will also provide an economic feasibility assessment of the Exhibition to determine its short-term (2024), mid-term (2025-2027) and long-term financial sustainability (2028-2034). This will include comparator business models that are similar to the Lethbridge & District Exhibition and scenario analysis for the future state of Lethbridge & District Exhibition analyzing a range of existing operating initiatives as well as possible future opportunities and models. The selection of a consultant will be jointly considered by City and Lethbridge & District Exhibition Administration. Funding of up to $300,000 will be funded from the existing 2023-2026 operating budget in accordance with Financial Services Policy – FS1, as per the delegation to the City Manager in Bylaw 6099 – The City Manager Bylaw. Administration to report on the status of the Third-Party Review with regular updates to the Economic and Finance Standing Policy Committee; and
- 5. Direct Administration to execute amendments to the Development Loan Agreement to reflect the amended schedule of loan payments; and
AND FURTHER, BE IT RESOLVED THAT City Council direct that the closed meeting report and discussions, with respect to the Lethbridge & District Exhibition Project Update remain confidential pursuant to Sections 16 (Harmful to Business Interests of a Third Party), 21 (Harmful to Intergovernmental Relations), 23 (Local Public Body Confidences), 24 (Advice from Officials) and 25 (Harmful to Economic and Other Interests of a Public Body) of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
- Councillor Crowson requested an amendment to add that Exhibition Park attend the Dec. 7, 2023 Assets and Infrastructure SPC so that the public can have an opportunity to speak to the request.
- Councillor Parker asked that each item be voted on separately.
I did not support any points in the motion because I believe we should have moved forward with our support of Exhibition Park without the condition of receiving a formal commitment from the Province. This was my debate:
It seems like we all want this facility to succeed – and understand that it’s imperative to the long-term economic development of our city and region. I will not say Exhibition Park is blameless, nor will I say the City of Lethbridge doesn’t bear some responsibility. What I will point out is that like Exhibition Park the City of Lethbridge also faced financial pressures over the past few years. To differing degrees both organizations have faced pressures to provide services, complete infrastructure projects, and serve our community in an environment of rising inflation and costs, while also facing supply chain issues, which in turn cause construction delays and costs to rise – we’ve seen this with our own projects – all while doing our best to balance affordability with limited resources. MNP could not predict COVID or all the increases this project faced. Further, if we go back to the historical debates around this project, we’ll see that Council voted on the project understanding that things can change and will change as the project progressed.
My focus for this project has always been on my commitment to the economic development and benefit to the region.
This a large startup – large startups see operational deficits in the initial years. The difference here is that Exhibition Park cannot go to a bank for financing like a private business could.
We’re not just supporting Exhibition Park, we are investing in our commitment to agriculture, agri-business, and economic development in this region and in this province.
There is so much more here than the financial ask – it really is the well being and collaboration of our region. It’s about how well we can partner on a challenging issue and come through with all our partners on the other side. The Agri-food Hub is what ties this together. It is something that the city and region and stakeholders have come together around and enhances our agricultural roots.
I will not be supporting this motion for a number of reasons:
- The City of Lethbridge requested the old pavilions feasibility study. I believe it is our responsibility to bear this cost with or without the commitment of provincial funding.
- Waiting until December 11 only kicks this can down the road, and Exhibition Park has impressed upon us the timeliness of their ask.
- Waiting until the Dec. 12 meeting – if there’s one thing we’ve learned interest rates can change in 14 days. Every day delayed for a decision risks changes to the funding structure.
- Regarding the amendment of adding this to Assets & Infrastrucure so the public can speak – we have allowed the public to speak at Council meetings before on other issues. We have a number of individuals here today who could and are likely prepared to speak to this, and we’ve decided not to allow that, so are being inconsistent in our procedures.
- Finally, in addition to the financial costs we need consider any unintended consequences/costs this might have insofar as inter-governmental relationships as well as relationships and perceptions with investors and other stakeholders in our community and region.
It’s time for this Council to demonstrate a commitment to the current investors and stakeholders on this project whether the Province comes to the party or not. This project brings the community and region together – I support that – whether the Province comes forward with additional support or not. I’m not saying we shouldn’t continue looking for funding on this from the Province and other organizations, but I am saying we should move forward with our support of Exhibition Park without the condition of receiving a formal commitment from the Province.