Keystone Centre seeks financial solution to $5.5 million debt

Provincial and city officials are struggling to find a long-term solution to the financial woes of Brandon’s Keystone Centre, home to the biggest agricultural events in Manitoba.

A special committee expects soon to file a report with the province recommending ways to pay off the centre’s $5.5 million debt and restore it to financial health.

This after Brandon council turned down an offer from the province of $1.25 million over five years, provided the city matched the amount.

Council did so because the offer did not deal with the Keystone Centre’s overall debt problems, said city manager Brian MacCrae.

The centre regularly hosts the province’s major agricultural attractions, including Manitoba AgDays, the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair, the Wheat City Stampede, Manitoba Hog Days (every other year) and the Manitoba Grazing School. It is also home ice for the Brandon Wheat Kings hockey team and will host the 2010 Memorial Cup.

“It’s incredibly important to the city and the province as a whole,” said general manager Dan Robertson.

First built in 1972, the Keystone Centre underwent expansions in 1982, 1990 and 2005. The last expansion, which included the Agricultural Centre of Excellence, was the biggest contributor to the centre’s debt, Robertson said.

The centre also needs at least $15 million in future capital upgrades.

The facility is in no danger of closing and is currently meeting all its payments, said Robertson.

But “we need a long-term agreement” to deal with the accumulated debt, annual operating losses and the further need for capital investment, he said.

The centre’s 10-year funding agreement with the city runs out in 2011.

MAFRI Minister Rosann Wowchuk pledged a new financial support program in October of $250,000 a year for five years, but only if the city matched its contribution 50/50. This would have raised the total amount to $500,000 a year for five years.

But MacCrae said the city couldn’t blindly commit to the offer without a “comprehensive solution” to the overall debt.

He said as far as the city is concerned, the provincial offer is still on the table and discussions about further funding are underway.

Both MacCrae and Robertson expressed confidence a solution will be found.

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