|Herald photo by Ian Martens
General manager Rudy Friesen answers a question Wednesday morning following a presentation on a proposed redevelopment at Exhibition Park.
Expected costs and conceptual designs for the redevelopment of Exhibition Park were finally revealed to the public Wednesday - and the vital part of Lethbridge's economic and social health may be getting a nearly $91-million overhaul.
A new 250,000-square-foot trade and convention centre and a new 75,000-square-foot dedicated Agriplex highlight the proposal, with an anticipated full completion date of August 2018.
Construction would take place in phases and would not significantly affect the Exhibition's major events, such as Whoop-Up Days, Ag Expo and the Home and Garden Show, the park's general manager Rudy Friesen said during a press conference at the park's south pavilion.
"This is the start of a pretty exciting time for us at Exhibition Park. It's not a game changer for Lethbridge Exhibition. It's a game changer for the region for sure," he said.
"We believe that the model that we've built is one that meets a current need and allows us to grow that need. A sustainable Exhibition Park into the future provides a valuable role in contributing to the well-being and the benefit of the community."
Friesen said the Exhibition Board will look at all options and opportunities to fund the $90,831,200-million project, including municipal, provincial and federal grants and community and corporate initiatives.
The Exhibition will also look to sell its parcel of land in southeast Lethbridge, last valued at $4.6 million and which was once considered as a location for an entirely new park.
No specific amount to how much would be requested from the city was announced, but the Exhibition's proposal will be presented to Lethbridge city council, seeking approval within the next 10-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), in March.
"The partnership with the City is key. They can be of great assistance to us in figuring out where we can access levels of funding, where grants are available and what grants that they can apply possibly to this project that don't necessarily have to come from the tax base," Friesen said.
"Undertakings like this are costly, there's no question. But I think the time is now for the project. It's more a case of 'is it a requirement? Is it something the community needs?' If it is, we need to figure out a way to get it done."
If approved and finances are secured, a detailed design would be put forth and construction on phase one could begin as soon as August 2015.
The convention centre, at an estimated cost of $62,651,000, would be first.
It would feature 172,000 square feet of useable connected trade show space, with moveable walls to configure the space in a variety of ways, as well as 25,000 square feet of higher end meeting space, an 8,000-square-foot industrial kitchen and views of Henderson Lake.
"That convention piece is all brand new - those people aren't even coming to Lethbridge right now and none of that money is being spent here. This building allows for us to be in that game and competing for those dollars and that revenue and that positive impact for Lethbridge and southern Alberta," Friesen said.
"This is a sooner rather than later project from our perspective. It's where there's the most pent-up need."
The second phase of construction, ideally beginning in August 2017, would include a $15.6-million Agriplex built in the general area of the existing pavilions. Those would be torn down.
Friesen said the new dedicated building would alleviate having to move dirt in and out of the current facilities based on the occupants and would feature portable seating for up to 1,500.
The remaining portion of the near $91-million proposal includes $11 million for site development costs and $1.5 million for furniture, fixtures and equipment.
The overall project could create up to 750 full-time jobs during the construction stage and around 700 full-time jobs for the following 10 years as a result of operating the facility and the anticipated additional activity.
The proposal also includes plans for the old eight-acre Henderson Lake Campground, which became Exhibition property on Jan. 1 and added to the park's previous 63 acres.
It will become the new area for Pioneer Park and the entertainment stage and may include an all-weather facility, Friesen said.
The overall plan was created by the Exhibition's redevelopment committee, which formed in 2009 and included members of the Exhibition Park's board of directors, city council, and a member each from the Chamber of Commerce and the County of Lethbridge, as well as one at-large member.
They completed a financial review of the organization, a condition facility audit of all facilities, a community and market needs assessment and a multiple accounts evaluation framework to determine the preferred site for Exhibition Park redevelopment.
The existing site was also confirmed as the ideal location.