“The Keystone is a valuable asset to our province as a unique venue for agricultural and entertainment events, contributing significantly to the local economy.”
– ROSANN WOWCHUK, PROVINCIAL AGRICULTURE MINISTER
One of Manitoba’s best-known venues for agricultural events has picked up a joint provincial/ civic bailout to help move some substantial debt off its books.
In town for the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair, provincial Agriculture Minister Ros ann Wowchuk and Brandon Mayor Dave Burgess on March 31 announced a $15.42 million funding package to help the Keystone 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, kicks in $1.375 million for capital improvements and $375,000 per year for 10 years, with $125,000 of that amount also being flowed to accelerated debt reduction.
Brandon is also to provide a grant – equal to the taxes for the centre’s adjoining Canad Inns hotel, 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). That includes $1.375 million each from the City of Brandon and 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, 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 pledged provincial grants of up to $250,000 a year for five years for the Keystone Centre, if the City of Brandon would put up matching funds. But Brandon’s council declined, saying the province’s offer at the time wouldn’t have dealt with the Keystone’s overall debt problems.
The centre sits on 90 acres of land in southern Brandon off Highway 10, including 540,000 square feet of multiuse facilities, among which are the home ice for the Brandon Wheat Kings and 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 last fall.
Including Ag Days, the Manitoba Livestock Expo and the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair, the Keystone Centre hosts about 1,500 ag and non-ag event days per year. The Wheat Kings recently bid successfully to host the 2010 Memorial Cup at the centre.