The good news is two major financial barriers appear to be dissipating for the Cochrane and District Agricultural Society (CDAS) to make it feasible for them to stay in their current location.
Now they face the question of whether they will get a firm commitment for a long-term lease and need one in place soon to not only launch its business plan but complete smaller operational improvements. If they will be required to leave, that six-year window appears even more daunting.
CDAS president Justin Burwell says the board definitely prefers to stay at its current location after thoroughly examining other options because an estimated $20 million they expected to face in off-site levies and earthmoving appear to be eroding. The lease, though, needs to be at least 40 years to make it practical.
"We have two studies from 2013 and 2018 that nudge us in direction of moving as a better choice," explains Burwash. "I would say that the circumstances and the situation have changed. Because of these two specific things our board is being interested in finding a long-term solution on the existing land and that would be our preferred option."
With only six years left on their lease with Rocky View County, time is starting to run out for the Ag Society and the uncertainty in whether they will be staying is hindering making necessary improvements and applying for potentially millions in government grants to help unfold its business plan.
"There are all sorts of challenges as we get closer and closer to the end of the lease term," he says, pointing to one example of the need for roof repairs.
"They’re big-ticket items. How do you plan appropriately for those type of things when you don't know if you’re going to be on the land or not?"
Burwash says the town has indicated it won't be asking for $10 million in off-site levies from the Ag Society as had been projected in a business plan study. With the interchange of Hwy. 22 and Hwy. 1A going ahead in the near future, there also appears to be the opportunity to work with Alberta Transportation to provide fill while reshaping the land to allow for better servicing and to facilitating further amenities.
A joint committee of the Rocky View County and Town of Cochrane is working on what the future of the land will be, and Burwash sees that as a positive thing.
"The fact that Rocky View County has formed a joint commitment with the Town of Cochrane to focus on and talk about the future of this land is certainly a step forward. They seem to be committed to figuring out the answers to this question and they’re moving in the right direction whereas the prior council didn’t have as clear of a commitment to figuring it out."
There are golden opportunities in front of the Ag Society that are time sensitive
"There’s a federal grant being administered through the province which could mean millions of dollars to us if we have a long-term commitment. We’ve got a road map in our business plan as to what facilities we want in a high-level budget but we don’t have a home that we can say here’s what we’re going to do and where. So if we did have that and we were ready we could be in front of that application and potentially be looking at millions of dollars of grant money, but timing isn’t working for us."
Year-round use continues to grow stronger each year because of its many facets.
"We are out there telling people we have a conservatively $4 million impact on the community and we provide facilities that service tens of thousands of people that come through there every year.
"We have one of the best BMX tracks in Western Canada, we have a world-class extreme cowboy cross-country course, we have a world class jumping cross-country course... so we ‘ve got some extremely good facilities this community should be proud of. We want to firm up our tenancy on the land so we can continue to provide that and provide even more and better services."
Users are thinking big, too. Cochrane BMX, for one, is hosting the biggest BMX of the year when it hosts the Alberta Grands and Provincial Championship in September. The Cochrane Horse Trials are looking into the potential of hosting an FEI-sanctioned jumping event on the challenging and absolutely stunning cross-country course.
"There are some big plans. for sure," he says. "Usage is still strong and growing but we have to keep up the facilities. We’ve got to make sure it’s maintained and we’ve got to make sure we’re doing improvements, otherwise, this demand will end up going elsewhere because we just won’t keep up with the expectations that are needed to do these things nowadays."
Discussion on the future of the Ag Society began when the society was denied a 50-year lease extension requested in 2015, followed by RVC deciding to sell the land should a suitable proposal come forward. No such proposal has been received. Last July, RVC council was told the land was not on the disposal list. RVC councillors Crystal Kissell pushed for discussions to come to a head. A joint RVC-Town of Cochrane is currently discussing the future of the 146-acre property.