As part of its economic recovery plan, the Alberta government will put $27.8 million into “an agri-food hub” at Exhibition Park in Lethbridge.
The agri-food hub is part of the centre’s larger redevelopment project, and “will serve as an anchor for growth of Alberta’s value-added food sector,” the government said.
“This project will bring a long overdue renewal and major expansion to Exhibition Park, providing more indoor and outdoor space for large events like festivals, like Whoop-Up Days, for fairs and agricultural shows,” Premier Jason Kenney said in announcing the government funding.
“Additions include 260,000 square feet for conferences and meetings, and the new festival lawn south of the development, which will offer room for big outdoor gatherings 365 days a year.
“Not this year unfortunately because of the pandemic, but that’s kind of the point. We’re building infrastructure for the future after COVID.”
The agri-food hub will increase food production space to 12,000 square feet (from 800), he said, and will be used by culinary students from Lethbridge College and for agri-food research.
The entire facility will also be a showcase for a region that is an agricultural and agri-food powerhouse in Canada, said Kenney. The region has 4.2 million acres of prime farmland, nearly 5,000 farms, and more than 11,000 agribusinesses that collectively generate more than $8 billion annually in economic activity, he said.
Exhibition Park’s website says that a 2009 audit of its 22 existing buildings found that 20 were “in poor or critical condition.” The website also says that prior to the pandemic, it was turning down 70 events annually and had trouble attracting large events because of inadequate facilities.
The government said the pro-ject will generate 400 construction jobs and an estimated 50 permanent jobs after completion.
The Exhibition Park project is one in a host being funded under the province’s $10-billion economic recovery plan. Along with government relief programs and support for the Keystone XL pipeline, the province plans to spend $612 million on infrastructure projects. Roadwork is among the latter, including twinning 46 kilometres of Highway 3 between Taber and Burdett. That project will start next year and take about three years to complete.