Lacombe council postpones funding decision for MEGlobal expansion

Lacombe Athletic Park Association members, dignitaries, MEGlobal Canada representatives and athletes gather at centre field of MEGlobal Athletic Park following the announcement of a $4-million expansion project and a $2-million donation from MEGlobal to go towards the project on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018 in Lacombe, Alta. Ashli Barrett / Lacombe Globe

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The City of Lacombe won’t be contributing funds to support expansion of MEGlobal Athletic Park – at least until the success of grant applications are known.

On Monday, city council rejected a recommendation from administration to contribute up to $1 million for the Lacombe Athletic Park Association (L.A.P.A.) project including construction of a track and upgrades to the existing field house. Instead, they voted 4-3 in favour of waiting until Spring 2020 when the results of Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) and Community Facility Enhancement Program (CFEP) applications are known.

While Mayor Grant Creasey and councillors alike gave the Lacombe Athletic Park Association (L.A.P.A.) kudos for the work they’ve done with the park and their fundraising efforts, there were concerns about the financial implication of a $1-million contribution – including a potential 0.14 per cent property tax increase up to 0.72 per cent if grants are unsuccessful – and the impact on other community projects.

“Is recreation important to our community? No question about it. Unfortunately, council is tasked with considering many other things that are not only important but critical for our community. This is a hard one to justify at this particular time in this amount,” said Creasey. Coun. Cora Hoekstra and Coun. Thalia Hibbs agreed, also noting council’s strategic plan and the likelihood of a property tax increase caused by the athletic park expansion project if they agreed to contribute up to $1 million.

Hibbs also said the timing wasn’t right, given recent reports on Alberta’s economic situation.

“In the last quarter, it’s being reported we actually had negative growth in this province and it’s very possible we may end up having a second quarter of negative growth,” she said. “If that’s the case, that means we’re on the edge of a recession and this makes me nervous.

I don’t think I’m prepared to support this at this time.”

Others, however, were more supportive.

Coun. Jonathan Jacobson said that while he was on the fence about how much this particular project would add, he was sure it would add to the ambiance of Lacombe as a great place to live, and stressed how impressive it was for a group like L.A.P.A. to find a way to fund 75 per cent of the project through non-city sources.

Coun. Don Gullekson spoke to what the community could gain from the project.

“I think with this project we’re underestimating how much it’ll bring to our community. When I think about this facility and what it could bring, I look at national championships, provincial championships and all those economic spinoffs,” he said.

“It does seem like a lot of money, but I think when we look at other facilities in our community that provide similar things to us, it’s not that big of an amount.”

Hoekstra, however, mentioned that in the context of all projects in the city, there has been plenty spent on athletics.

“Our city has supported athleticism to a fairly great degree and we’ve had requests at our door to support the arts and we have not ever considered a million dollars for the arts,” she said. “Citizens need to see us supporting a balanced access to different services in our community.”

While the city’s decision to wait wasn’t necessarily what the Lacombe Athletic Park Association (LAPA) was hoping for, 2019 LAPA Board Chair Darren Berg says the project will still go forward, despite the wait for grant application results.

“One of the great things about this partnership between L.A.P.A. and our sponsors and partners has been how we work together to make the park happen. I have plenty of confidence we’ll continue to do so,” Berg said.

“It’s difficult to see the end at this point, but we’ll continue to proceed as quickly as possible. We’re still very excited – I believe the field house expansion and track will be built.”

Both the City of Lacombe and Lacombe County have resolved to support the project. In November, L.A.P.A. formally announced a $2 million donation from MEGlobal which will go towards what is expected to be a $4 million expansion in total.

Phase 1, which is an addition to the field house and upgrades to the bathrooms and change rooms, is expected to commence in Sept. 2019. Phase 2, which is the installation of track and field infrastructure, is scheduled for Spring 2020.