Keystone Centre funding deal on the horizon
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The Keystone Centre could receive a new lease on life after Monday, when Brandon City Council will vote on a five-year funding agreement that aims to provide the multi-use facility with more stable financial support.
The new joint venture would require the city and the Manitoba government to each contribute $7.97 million between 2023 and 2027, according to the agenda for Monday’s council meeting.
Coun. Bruce Luebke (Ward 6), who also serves as the Keystone Centre’s board chair, told the Sun he is happy the new deal is being finalized, since the Keystone Centre has been without a long-term funding agreement since 2018-19.
Without a long-term funding model in place, Luebke said, the Keystone Centre had to secure funding on a year-to-year basis, which didn’t always match up with the facility’s prospective capital projects.
“Now we’re almost tripling our capital contributions from the city and the province compared to what they would be over the next five years had we just continued on the same path,” he said.
“So I think it’s a significant increase and a significant contribution from both the city and the province to recognize the capital needs that the Keystone Centre currently has and will continue to have into the future.”
Even though the city will be increasing its contributions to the Keystone Centre compared to past long-term funding plans, Luebke insists they will be able to fill this gap by rolling pre-existing debentures payments into the new agreement.
Originally opening its doors in 1972, the Keystone Centre was established through an agreement between the City of Brandon and the Manitoba government.
The Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba also contributed land and assets for the facility, which, after several expansions, currently offers Westman residents 540,000 square feet of multi-use space to enjoy athletic competitions, trade shows, concerts and other large-scale community events.
While long-term joint funding has helped the Keystone Centre thrive, this new agreement had to be put on hold in 2020 after the province retained MNP Brandon to commission a financial sustainability report.
Once that report was submitted last year, Luebke and his fellow board members were finally given the green light to negotiate a new long-term funding agreement with the province.
“I don’t think there’s been any doubt in my mind that the province recognized the importance of the Keystone Centre as an event venue and as an economic driver in our community,” the councillor said.
“So it was about just trying to finalize the numbers and then it was about some of the other parameters that will be in the agreement as far as the council report that [city manager] Ron [Bowels] prepared.”
The fresh deal couldn’t have come at a better time, he added, since the Keystone Centre is still recovering from the prolonged shutdowns and restrictions prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the Keystone Centre has been operating at full capacity for a while now, Luebke said attendance rates haven’t returned to pre-2020 levels, requiring a new approach to funding to compensate for this new fiscal reality.
The Keystone Centre board has also struggled with other economic variables beyond its control, with increasing insurance rates and rising natural gas costs collectively adding $300,000 more in expenses over the last five years.
“The COVID hangover exists in a lot of industries and we’re definitely seeing that in the Keystone Centre,” Mayor Jeff Fawcett told the Sun on Friday.
“So there’s always things that we’ll need to do, but this [agreement] makes life there a lot easier and it lets them be more ambitious.”
If council votes in favour of the deal on Monday, Luebke said the plan still must be approved by the province.
But as they wait for both verdicts, members of the Keystone Centre administration will continue to work in the background to come up with a plan on how to spend this $15.9 million in funding over the next half-decade, he said.
“They’ve already started that process earlier this month, so I anticipate that we’ll have a five-year capital plan in place by the time we meet in May.”
Jeff Schumacher, general manager of the Keystone Centre, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Monday’s Brandon City Council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m., with a special meeting slated to begin an hour earlier.
» Twitter: @KyleDarbyson