Earlier this year, dignitaries held a sod-turning event to mark the beginning of construction for a massive new $70.5-million Agri-food Hub and Trade Centre at Exhibition Park that is currently under construction in southeast Lethbridge, Alberta.
Today, the ground for the centre has been cleared, and heavy equipment has been brought in to prepare and grade the site. There are mounds of dirt where a pile driver has been drilling holes for the footing of the building, while a number of trailers, trucks and other heavy equipment are lined up around the site perimeter.
Roughly one-third of the structural piles have been driven into the ground so far, and the pile-driving will continue for weeks. More than 300 piles are expected to be installed, equal to drilling 4.8 kilometres. Crews are using virtually vibration-free and quietest forms of piling—a Continuous Flight Auger method.
Exhibition’s largest development
The new 268,000-square-foot structure is the largest development in the history of Lethbridge & District Exhibition and will be roughly twice the size of the existing structure. It is expected to open in 2023.
Inside, the building will have meeting rooms of varying sizes and a massive kitchen. One area of the building will have large, exposed timber beams to honour the railways that built Canada. The main exhibition hall will be 110,000 square feet and capable of hosting trade shows with up to 7,000 attendees. Bare concrete and basic materials are being used in its construction to reflect the area’s mining industry.
Ward Bros. Construction Ltd. of Lethbridge was selected as the project’s construction manager at the end of 2020. The company, founded in 1976, has grown to be one of the largest construction management and design-build companies in southern Alberta. It has already completed numerous marquee projects throughout the region, including West Lethbridge Centre and The Crossings Ice Complex.
Colin Ward, the company’s chief operating officer, said in a statement that the firm was honoured to have been selected for the build and looks forward to delivering a transformational project.
Catalyst for economic growth
Nearly 400 construction workers will be hired over three years. Another 50 new, full-time permanent positions will be created to operate the facility when it opens. The new structure will double current hosting capacity to accommodate more and larger national and international events. Once operational, the new centre is expected to contribute more than $90 million annually to the regional economy.
This investment will also showcase Canada’s premier food corridor, expedite trade, create market access, and generate new investment opportunities.
“The Agri-food Hub and Trade Centre is going to ignite economic growth, not just in Lethbridge and the southern Alberta economy, but also for Canada`s agricultural industry,” said Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman. “It will attract more traffic, both from within the community, but more importantly from throughout the world, to come to Lethbridge. This will generate more direct flights to our city, increase demand for hotels and generate new investment in our community.”
Shared vision led to the project
The project was undertaken because the existing District Exhibition was becoming increasingly expensive and unsustainable to operate. Many of the buildings had deteriorated and were in need of repair.
The project is funded by the Government of Alberta through Alberta’s Recovery Plan, the City of Lethbridge, which will maintain ownership of the land, and a 30-year loan secured against the future operations of the facility.
The project officially got the green light to proceed last August when the Lethbridge city council voted in favour of four motions. The approval followed the Government of Alberta’s announcement that it would invest $27.8 million in the development of the Agri-Food Hub and Trade Centre on the site as part of Alberta’s Recovery Plan.
According to Exhibition Park CEO Mike Warkentin, the new centre is becoming a reality because of the “unprecedented shared vision and collaboration” of the province, city and Lethbridge & District Exhibition and partners, especially those in the agriculture community.
“Already, this project is becoming a centre of gravity for attracting jobs and people to Lethbridge,” Warkentin added.