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Lethbridge and District Exhibition fate uncertain amid funding rejection

The events industry is one of glam and grandeur, but it also takes a lot of work to sustain.

The Lethbridge and District Exhibition grounds knows the industry better than most. But even the event industry giant that has put Lethbridge on the map has run into financial trouble mere months after it had opened in August.

According to the Ex’s website, the $77-million building was supposed to bring in around $90 million into the local economy and had requested another $7 million from the province to continue operating by the end of November.

Two weeks after requesting financial aid, a letter was sent from the province rejecting the request. The rejection also terminated the agreement with the city, for any of their offered assistance as well.

And according to the CEO of the Agri-food Hub and Trade Centre, Mike Warkentin, this rejection puts the staple of southern Alberta agriculture in a dire financial situation.

“It’s about our staff who work tirelessly. It’s about our board who have volunteered for years and years and years and years for this organization. And understanding the financial future and viability of our organization are paramount right now,” Warkentin said.

If the Agri-food Hub cannot sustain nor pay off their loans, the city would need to reclaim the hub and exhibition site, thus ending the more than a century of service to Lethbridge and the surrounding area by the Exhibition.

The board of directors met today at noon with Warkentin and are evaluating all options to not only keep the exhibition open and operational, but to remain a viable source of income for the community.

The main question is not just how, but for how long? When questioned by city council after receiving the disappointing news from the province, Warkentin offered up the idea that the Exhibition can pay off all contractors and staff for the remainder of the year. He did however remain uncertain as to any further amount of time.

The CEO remains fervent and stands firm in his belief in the project and its long-term goals.

“I said the last time we were in public that this project can’t be judged off the first six months of its operation,” Warkentin explained. “It needs to be judged off its first 25 years and the long-term impacts: job creation, event creation, showcasing southern Alberta that ultimately comes out of this is what it needs to be judged on.”

The Lethbridge and District Exhibition told Global News that they will be issuing further information when it becomes available.

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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