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Holiday Trails Eyes ‘Rolling Leases’ for Park

July 25, 2012 by   - () Leave a Comment

For generations, public campsites have drawn visitors to Lethbridge, Alberta

But now city officials have decided to close one of the city’s two existing facilities at year’s end. And the national company that’s leasing the 80-unit Henderson Lake campground says it’s received no help in finding a new Lethbridge location, the Lethbridge Herald reported.

It’s also puzzled about the process leading to closure plans, a Holiday Trails resort spokesman says. And it’s asking why a letter its officials wrote to mayor and council never reached councillors.

Holiday Trails is also asking why its latest proposal – a larger, updated facility providing revenue-sharing with the Lethbridge Exhibition board – has been met with silence.

The company has paid more than $600,000 in city taxes since investing in Lethbridge 15 years ago, says spokesman Darrel Mckenzie. The Henderson Lake campground and its larger Bridgeview facility in the river valley have generated $45 million in tourist spending over those years, he adds.

“The industry is expanding,” Mckenzie points out. “In Alberta, a top priority is to expand the number of campsites.”

Holiday Trails has bought more land and expanded the Bridgeview location several times, he says. Its most recent upgrade, undertaken in 2008, added 55 new sites.

But proposals to significantly improve the Henderson location have been rebuffed, he says.

Mckenzie, the city’s economic development officer before he retired, is now a consultant working with firms interested in investing here. For many years, he says, city officials have responded to Holiday Trail’s proposals to upgrade Henderson by saying plans were being prepared for the land’s long-term development.

“But it’s never happened.”

The operators also approached Lethbridge Exhibition board officials with the revenue-sharing proposal, he says – patterned after an agreement with Red Deer’s exhibition board.

They weren’t interested, Mckenzie says, even though they currently have no plans to build on the property. Until that happens, he adds, Holiday Trails would accept a series of “rolling” one-year leases so the site can continue welcoming tourists.

Rudy Friesen, general manager for the Lethbridge Exhibition, is on holiday and not available to outline plans for the site. Calls were referred to City Hall.

But at City Hall, community services director Bary Beck says officials there have no word on how soon the exhibition may develop the additional space – or what it will be used for meanwhile.

But work on infrastructure upgrades to its aging buildings is scheduled to begin this fall, he adds. Beck says the additional land was included – effective at year’s end – in the city’s most recent land-lease agreement with the exhibition board.

That long-term lease, says Mayor Rajko Dodic, was approved by the previous council. It also includes assistance in helping upgrade present facilities – and an agreement to consider exhibition park improvements for the city’s next capital improvement program.

But the exhibition board is free to allow the campground to stay open, he adds.

“It’s up to them if they want to extend the lease.”

Council and the exhibition board have a joint committee looking at planning and development, Dodic says, but he’s unsure about when a comprehensive plan will be ready.

“It’s sort of a wait and see proposition.”

Councillor Jeff Coffman, who recently reviewed the campsite situation, says he doesn’t understand why Holiday Trail’s letter to mayor and council wasn’t presented to the council this spring.

“They’re supposed to go to everyone” when they’re addressed to council, he says.

When there’s a company interested in investing here, Coffman adds, it should have the opportunity of speaking to council if it wishes.

Noting the successful arrangement in Red Deer, he says it’s unfortunate no one arranged a three-way meeting between Holiday Trails, the city and the exhibition board to explore collaborative development possibilities.

“We could have had a win-win-win situation.”

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