Fredericton spends $100K on study to bring Exhibition Grounds closer to redevelopment
Consultant will propose way the land can be used to house people eager to live downtown
The City of Fredericton is trying to figure out how to develop the New Brunswick Exhibition Grounds to accommodate a growing number of residents — many with a preference for downtown living.
This week, city council approved hiring a consultant for $100,000 to look more closely at the 31-acre property on Smythe Street and come up with a development plan.
"A lot of that land is sitting there right now without bringing any value to anybody," Mayor Mike O'Brien said Tuesday.
If the Exhibition Grounds aren't redeveloped, he said, older houses in the city may need to be torn down and replaced with apartment buildings.
"People want to live in our downtown core."
The city has been talking for years about getting some housing on the Exhibition Grounds. Fredericton could see up to 25,000 new residents in the next 23 years.
The consultant, 02 Planning and Design of Calgary, will look at whether apartment buildings or homes should be built in the area and where they should go.
It will also look at how much green space should be left, what should happen to the exhibition itself and where future midways could be set up.
O'Brien said he hopes the plan will be completed by the end of this year, but the COVID-19 pandemic could push that date back to early 2021.
City officials are considering everything, including commercial operations, for the space.
The goal is a plan that can benefit residents, revitalize the Exhibition Grounds and respect climate change, the city says.
"Right at this moment, I can't say what it will be, but I know it will be a real exciting opportunity for everybody involved," O'Brien said.
Public to be consulted
O2 Planning and Design will start working on the plan in September and will do public consultations.
It was one of seven companies that responded to the city's call for proposals earlier this year. The company, which has done work on other projects in the New Brunswick capital, would not be the developer of the lands.
O'Brien said he isn't sure when the development plan might be approved or get underway but he's confident it will happen.
"Markets will drive how fast people will want to develop. And there's a pent-up demand here in the city," he said. "But there's only so much that can be done at any one time."
A history of tension
The plan is being overseen by a new land development committee made up of city councillors, New Brunswick Exhibition board members and people in the community.
The city owns the property but Fredericton Exhibition Ltd., also known as NBEx, has been leasing it since 1948. The lease runs in 21-year terms, and the current lease is in effect until 2031.
In 2017 the city started discussions to push the exhibition into a new location and away from the current grounds, so they could be turned into residential area.
That was opposed by Fredericton Exhibition, which eventually took the city to court before dropping the case in 2018.
"We've got to work together to bring value to the NBEx and the citizens of Fredericton," O'Brien said.
Mike Vokey, the executive director of Fredericton Exhibition Ltd. acknowledged the long history of challenges between the two sides.
"Everybody had their own vision and everybody went into their own direction," he said. "Now we're in a spot where we're working together, probably for the first time in years and years."
Vokey said he's looking forward to the new plan and possibly an even bigger exhibition every year.
"I'm hoping something comes up that nobody's thought of."