Tuesday, May 31, 2011 06:00 am | LEA SMALDON
The Olds Ag Society is waiting on Mountain View County’s endorsement to submit a federal grant application intended to help fund its estimated $49.96 million proposed Gateway Project.
The project includes an estimated $15.6 million redevelopment of existing OAS lands in Olds, and the development of an estimated $34.36 million Gateway Centre in Mountain View County.
The centre, currently pinpointed for the northeast corner of highways 2 and 27, is proposed to include convention, community, agriculture and interpretive facilities, a 100-room hotel, racino (casino and race track), and grandstand.
Support for the P3 Canada Fund application through a resolution is required from Mountain View County and the Town of Olds, according to the group helping the OAS with the application.
Olds councillors approved the requested resolution supporting the capital expansion and grant fund application last Tuesday after OAS manager Tami Gardner made a presentation during the regular council meeting.
Gardner was in Mountain View County council chambers the following day, making the same request during a Policies and Priorities committee meeting.
The committee unanimously agreed to recommend to Mountain View County council that council give the endorsement.
But some committee members were left with questions unanswered as few details of the actual application were given.
OAS intends to apply to Crown corporation PPP Canada for a grant worth an undisclosed amount of money through the $1.2 billion P3 Canada Fund.
The fund was created to improve the delivery of public infrastructure by supporting the effective use of P3s, defined as public-private partnerships.
Div. 4 Coun. Bruce Beattie asked Gardner who the partners would be in OAS’s application.
“It’s not necessarily specified at this point,” said Gardner, adding developers, levels of government, and the Olds Ag Society would be involved.
Div. 1 Coun. Kevin Good questioned Gardner on which partners - public or private - would be responsible for what aspects of the proposal.
“It’s much too early in the process for us to determine the level of ownership in the project,” Gardner replied.
She told the committee that the project itself is outlined in the five-year business plan OAS adopted in December 2010.
According to the business plan, the OAS commissioned Commonwealth Corporate Support Services Group Canada to prepare the 2011-2015 business plan to provide a framework for expansion and enhancement of the society’s services which will be sustainable in the long term.
It sets out the OAS’s objectives of promoting agriculture, focusing on youth, fiscal sustainability, diversification, and governance.
The plan examines the objectives and the basic methodology to achieve those goals through development of the new Gateway Project.
The various ventures the OAS has proposed have been selected to optimize cash flows, the business plan notes.
Expanded shopping options are part of the proposed Hwy 2/27 development.
“At present there are indications of support for the Gateway Centre project from potential retail tenants like Bluenotes, and dining chains such as Edo Japan, Ric’s Grill and IHOP,” the business plan notes.
The proposed casino/racetrack component (racino), with a capacity for 120 slot machines, will help generate substantial additional income for OAS allowing for enhanced and expanded services, infrastructure and programming on the agricultural side, the plan states.
It will also help revitalize horse racing in Alberta while providing entertainment with strong agricultural ties to the region, the plan states.
While the United Horsemen of Alberta proposal for an A-class horse race track and entertainment centre near Balzac poses a potential threat, the business plan states the addition of A-class tracks in the area increases demand for B-class tracks like the one proposed for OAS.
“The Alberta Standardbred Horse Association has indicated support of this concept for OAS, and has expressed serious interest in moving some of its race events to OAS (approximately 50 race events per year to start, with a five-year commitment) to use the existing track, as well as its eventual replacement,” the plan states.
The need for a hotel is apparent, according to the plan.
It notes OAS turns away three to four event inquiries every week because there is no appropriate lodging for delegates.
And according to the plan, promotion of educational programs at Gateway will spur greater hospitality business with longer hotel stays, meals served, gaming visits and conference/banquets being booked at the centre.
The cost of the centre is proposed to be funded by a consortium of private sector groups and the governments of Alberta and Canada.
The plan lists 35 companies - largely banks, agriculture, and oil and gas companies - which may be approached.
International societies and organizations are also listed as potential targets for fundraising.
Gardner clarified in the Policies and Priorities meeting that support of the ag society’s P3 Canada Fund application does not commit Mountain View County to providing any funding as a condition of the project.
After the meeting, Gardner said the P3 Canada Fund application is the first attempt the OAS would be making to solicit federal funding for the Gateway Project, and would be beneficial in many ways if successful.
“I think any amount of significant investment in the Gateway Project has the desired outcome of creating a snowball effect and it also provides endorsement and gives legitimacy by the federal government.”
Since adopting the business plan OAS has made no applications for provincial grant funding. However, OAS did receive a $3.8 million grant towards the Gateway Project’s predecessor - the Gateway Centre - in 2006.
Fundraising for the venture began in 2006. By April 2007, 32,000 had been raised through Founders of the project, $50,000 through the 2006 Chautauqua, $150,000 through the Olds Rotary Club, and $10,000 through the RCMP.
Gardner said OAS plans to primarily use its current assets in Olds as its own investment in the project.
“The ag society’s primary investment in Gateway will be the sale and development of the existing property - that will be the most significant,” she said.
In order to apply for the current period’s P3 Canada Fund distribution, OAS is required to submit its application no later than June 30.
Commonwealth, the consortium helping OAS with the application, has requested municipal endorsement no later than June 20.
Mountain View County Reeve Paddy Munro said he hoped more information regarding the application would be forthcoming in order for council to consider the Policy and Priorities committee’s recommendation during a council meeting.
“We need more information. We just don’t have enough right now,” Munro said in an interview after the Policies and Priorities meeting.
“We support totally, the ag part of the Olds Ag Society,” Munroe said, adding other elements of the proposal have been questioned.
“A racino - it’s almost a cultural difference for the county.”