After many years in the making, construction has officially started on Lethbridge & District Exhibitions Agri-food Hub and Trade Centre.
On Wednesday afternoon, several officials representing local, provincial and federal entities took part in a ground-breaking ceremony to mark the start of the process.
Premier Jason Kenney — who says he was also in the area to survey the damage from Sunday’s grass fires and to discuss COVID-19 with South zone officials — believes this project is good news for the city of Lethbridge and the province’s agri-food and farm sector.
“As part of the larger redevelopment, the agri-food hub will serve as an anchor for growth in Lethbridge’s value-added food sector while continuing to diversify Alberta’s economy and providing a local market for farmers in southern Alberta,” Kenney said.
Through Alberta’s Recovery Plan, the province has invested $27.8 million into the facility. Additionally, the City of Lethbridge approved Lethbridge & District Exhibition for a non-tax supported 30-year loan in the amount of $17.8-million back in August.
The city also provided a $25-million grant for the redevelopment of Exhibition Park.
“Showcasing southern Alberta’s value-added products will create interest nationally and from around the world in Canada’s premium food corridor,” said Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman.
Ward Bros. Construction Ltd., a Lethbridge company, is spearheading work on the 268,000-square-foot facility, which is expected to create hundreds of jobs.
“It will trigger work experiences and quality employment opportunities for students and graduates of Lethbridge College and University of Lethbridge,” Spearman said.
David Goldstein, chief executive officer of Travel Alberta, is looking forward to the benefits this project will have on the travel industry as it continues to struggle amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is no doubt that this crisis has hit our sector hard, but days like today and events like this really give us a sense of celebration and hope as we rebuild that sector of the Alberta economy,” Goldstein said.
According to Exhibition Park’s chief operating officer Mike Warkentin, excavation work will ramp up in the coming weeks.
To date, more than 200 trees have been cleared from the property, but for every tree taken, one will be replanted as part of the new facility’s landscaping plan. As well, the wood will be reused in furniture for the building or donated to the public, according to officials.
Warkentin says construction work will only minimally impact Exhibition Park’s current facilities and programming, such as the Farmers’ Market starting on May 8.
“The one thing people will notice here in the coming weeks is the north parking lot will go under some transformation,” he said. “Because of the scope of this building, the construction tents will push further into the parking lot, so it will limit the parking in the north parking lot.”
The agri-food hub is expected to be finished in early 2023.