Red River Exhibition Association CEO Garth Rogerson is counting on plenty of interest in an improved, upgraded Red River Ex site.
The association’s board is in the process of developing its 460-acre site, referred to as Precinct R by the City of Winnipeg’s Planning Department.
The cost of fully servicing the entire 460-acre association property, that stretches as far north as Saskatchewan Avenue, is estimated to be about $20 million. "We’ve done $7.5 million already," Rogerson said.
Construction of Festival Drive, a second access point into Red River Exhibition Park that runs from Portage Avenue north to a 2,000-vehicle parking lot, was completed in 2016. Rogerson said the roadway also provides links with the 40 acres comprising the new Westport Festival, a retail and commercial development. Another section of land to the north, now solely occupied by the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba’s head office, will be marketed for light industrial use by agri-businesses.
Rogerson said development of the parcel has been a lengthy process.
"It’s taken almost eight years," he said, later adding that completing the entire development plan could take up to 30 years. "But we’ve already jumped a lot of hurdles."
The City approved the overall development plan last November. Rogerson said the RM of Headingley council also gave its approval some time ago although none of Precinct R lies within the municipality but is adjacent to Headingley’s eastern boundary.
"We have a good relationship with the RM," Rogerson said.
He believes the large-scale residential Taylor Farm development underway in Headingley will help to spur on retail development within Westport Festival as business owners see the opportunity to have more Headingley commuters stop in as they travel to and from Winnipeg.
"I think we’ll be a nice complement to the Headingley development," Rogerson said. "It will be good for both."
He foresees a transit loop at the end of Festival Drive and the adjacent parking lot serving as a park and ride site for commuters heading into Winnipeg, employees working at Westport Festival businesses and guests attending Exhibition Park events.
"We’ve been talking to Winnipeg Transit for a while."
Rogerson said he’s walked from the last City of Winnipeg bus stop on Portage Avenue to the Exhibition Park grounds, and discovered how pedestrian unfriendly the route is with no sidewalk and heavy traffic moving along the Trans-Canada Highway.
Bike trails have been included in Precinct R development to offer another means of moving around within the site.
The first business to go into Westport Festival might be a hotel/restaurant near the corner of Race Track Road and Portage Ave.
"We have lots of use for a hotel," Rogerson said, citing the nearby MTS Iceplex, Exhibition Park and Assiniboia Downs as facilities that can attract hotel guests.
Improvements to Exhibition Park’s existing buildings and construction of new buildings are part of the park’s expansion plans and overall Precinct R development. The park is set to double in size from 100 to 200 acres.
"We’re seeing lots of trade shows coming through here now," Rogerson said.
If Red River Exhibition Park can earn a Class A agricultural fair facility, like Brandon’s Keystone Centre and Regina’s Evraz Place, more agricultural shows will likely book the site.
"We also want to create a community access building," Rogerson said. This could be used by local organizations needing a large, low-cost space to hold events such as dog shows and fundraisers.
"We see a real need for that type of building."
He noted that the exhibition association must generate its own revenue by leasing its space as it doesn’t receive government funding. Retail development in Westport Festival will help to generate money needed to build community facilities and the next phase in the association’s development.
Rogerson has travelled to state fairs across the U.S. to find out what works and doesn’t work at facilities similar to Red River Exhibition Park. He said partnerships with other local organizations and businesses will help the Red River Exhibition Park board to achieve their long-term vision.
"That’s the way of the future."