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Man. ag show venue gets bailout

One of Manitoba’s best-known venues for farm shows and events has picked up a joint provincial/civic bailout to help move some substantial debt off its books.

During one of the Keystone Centre’s major events, the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair, provincial Agriculture Minister Rosann Wowchuk and Brandon Mayor Dave Burgess on Tuesday announced a $15.42 million funding package to help the centre pay down debt and fund operations and capital improvements.

The province’s share of the funding includes $2.375 million
for capital improvements, a $557,000 debt-reduction grant, an

annual operating contribution of $250,000 for 10 years to offset
operating expenses and a further $125,000 contribution for 10
years to accelerate debt reduction.

The City of Brandon, meanwhile, is to contribute $1.375 million for capital improvements and
$375,000 per year for 10 years, with $125,000 of that amount also
being flowed to accelerating debt reduction.

Brandon is also to provide a grant, equal to the adjoining CanadInn’s taxes, estimated to total $2 million over 10 years, to be used for
ongoing capital needs.

The Keystone Centre is also booked to undergo a $5.125 million retrofit
project, for which $4.125 million was previously approved under the Municipal
Rural Infrastructure Fund (MRIF), which includes $1.375 million
from the City of Brandon and $1.375 million each from the
provincial and federal governments, along with a further $1 million from the province.

Also included in the plan is $4.72 million in loan refinancing to assist the centre with its capital debt.

The Keystone Centre, Wowchuk said, “is a valuable asset to our province as a unique venue for agricultural and entertainment events, contributing significantly to the local economy.”

The centre, originally opened in 1972 and expanded several times over since then, was set up through an agreement between the city and province that saw the two parties share equally in any Keystone deficit. The land and existing venues at that time were provided by the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba.

The province in October last year had pledged provincial grants of up to $250,000 a year for five years for the Keystone Centre, providing that the City of Brandon put up matching funds. But Brandon’s city council declined that proposal because the province’s offer at the time wouldn’t have dealt with the Keystone Centre’s overall debt problems.

The centre sits on 90 acres of land in southern Brandon off Highway 10, including 540,000 square feet of multi-use facilities, among which are the home ice of the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Brandon Wheat Kings and the Brandon Curling Club.

The Keystone Centre in 2006 opened the Agricultural Centre of Excellence, which includes 100,000 square feet of show ring, stabling, wash racks and other show facilities connected to the main centre and is adjacent to six acres of outdoor development including outdoor sand and grass equestrian show rings, camping sites and parking for large trucks and trailers.

That expansion was the biggest contributor to the centre’s current debt, general manager Dan Robertson told the Manitoba Co-operator last fall.

The centre’s main annual ag events include Ag Days, the Manitoba Livestock Expo and the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair. The centre hosts about 1,500 ag and non-ag event days per year. Among the centre’s upcoming events, the Wheat Kings recently bid successfully to host the 2010 Memorial Cup.

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