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Man. ag show venue funding deal rejected

The Manitoba government’s offer of a new funding plan for one of the province’s best-known venues for farm shows and events has been rejected as doing nothing to solve the facility’s debt woes.

The province in October had pledged provincial grants of up to $250,000 a year for five years for the Keystone Centre in Brandon, providing that the City of Brandon put up matching funds.

According to Thursday’s Manitoba Co-operator, Brandon’s city council declined because the province’s offer did not deal with the Keystone Centre’s overall debt problems.

City manager Brian MacCrae told the Co-operator’s Ron Friesen that Brandon couldn’t blindly commit to the offer without a “comprehensive solution” to the overall debt, now around $5.5 million.

Officials said the centre also needs at least $15 million in future capital upgrades.

Agriculture Minister Rosann Wowchuk said in October that the new funding proposal was meant to “assist the Keystone Centre in its efforts to maintain green space for the people of Brandon and cover its current and future operating deficits.” One of the conditions called for no sale or lease of Keystone land for “unrelated commercial enterprises.”

The Co-operator said a special committee expects to file a report with the province soon to recommend ways of paying off the centre’s debt and restoring it to financial health.

The Keystone 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 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 Co-operator.

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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