City hall must take off its blinders about the Fredericton Exhibition and work with the group so both city and Ex can grow, a former councillor says.
This week, council decided to try pushing the Fredericton Exhibition off the exhibition grounds on Smythe Street and into another location
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Although the Fredericton Exhibition says a move would kill the annual event, councillors voted Monday to start formal discussions to free the land for development.
'I know what councillors tend to be more supportive of the Frex and the ones that weren't.' -Marilyn Kerton, former city councillor
"The blockage is coming from the city," said Marilyn Kerton, a city councillor for 24 years and a former board member of the exhibition, also known as the Frex, NB Ex and the Ex.
"The city, they have blinders on."
She said it seems that councillors from the south side of the city want the exhibition grounds for housing development, while north side councillors are more receptive to working with exhibition and helping its develop.
"I know what councillors tend to be more supportive of the Frex and the ones that weren't," she said. "Mayor Mike O'Brien, when he was a councillor, he used to support quite a few of the activities that … were presented to council."
Urges city to do more
The city owns the land but Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. has been leasing the property since 1948. The lease runs in 21-year terms, and at least 16 years remain on the current one.
In the last five years, O'Brien said, 600 apartments were built in the downtown core. A new residential area along Smythe could house up to 1,000 people.
O'Brien suggested the exhibition could move to the Grant-Harvey Centre in Knowledge Park, but an exhibition official said that wouldn't work.
Mike Vokey, the executive director of Fredericton Exhibition Ltd., said 500,000 people visit the exhibition grounds every year for the more than 50 events that happen there.
A new location would be a death sentence for the summer exhibition and other events, he said.
Although Kerton said she understands the city's desire for more residential space in the downtown area, the city has to do more for the exhibition. If it did, the exhibition would grow, along with housing in the periphery of the grounds.
"Work together with the Frex," she said. "They're going to be there, they're going to be there forever and a day."
Ex has proposed improvements
As a councillor, she remembers the many efforts Vokey made to make the Fredericton Exhibition site more viable and profitable, only to have the city turn them down.
"If the city would start working with Mike … it's a win-win for both of them," said Kerton.
The debate about moving the exhibition was sparked a few weeks ago, when city councillors turned down retired boxer Brandon Brewer's pitch for a wellness centre on the exhibition grounds.
"I think the city could've worked with him and put his operation in there," she said. "He's a world-class boxer, and I think we missed the boat on that."