The Mayor for the City of Winkler says last week's funding announcement by the Federal government has moved the overall Meridian Exhibition Centre project ahead by years. The feds have approved $7.9 million to support phase 2 of the effort which will see large-scale renovations take place at the Centennial Area.

"If we were the ones financing this entire thing ourselves, this would have been years down the road before we could do this," said Martin Harder. "When I look at the difference this will make to the (Winkler) Flyers organization, as an example, and also the flexibility within our community. The concept design is to have a bowl inside that is going to be created, together with some proper box seats, together with accessibility, together with environment improvements - it just wouldn't have happened in the next five or six years if we would have had to look after it ourselves."

These improvements, added Harder, will open up the door for many more opportunities in the future. For example, he says the Flyers would be able to host the Royal Bank Cup, which hasn't been a possibility due to lack of capacity and design in the current arena. 

The third and final phase of the overall Meridian Exhibition Centre Project calls for an indoor pool to be built, and Harder says the timeline for that too could be moved up now that local tax payers aren't on the hook for the entire cost of phase 2. 

While the federal funding was announced just last week, Harder says it'll still be a few years before renovations and rehabilitation of Centennial Arena are complete.

"First, we the building integrity (assessment) to insure that the building is capable and then secondly, go to the design phase and then the construction phase. Obviously, we want to work with the Flyers to insure there is the least amount of disruption to their organization as possible...there's a lot of details to be looked after."

At the time the grant application was submitted, the cost of the renovation was estimated at nearly $10 million, and the federal funding represented 80% of the total cost. Considering current market conditions, it is expected that the cost of the renovation is likely to exceed the original $10 million, but the City says it will continue to pursue other sources of funding.  

"We also have put an application into the Province...and we are hoping that our local MLA comes through. He has said all along 'I want to be involved with phase two'. He has been apologetic for not being able to come through on phase one so, we're counting on that one to come through as well, which really gives us a good firm foundation to be able to complete this project with very few local tax dollars invested," said Harder.

Meantime, Harder says he appreciates the involvement in working with the federal government on this project, including a personal meeting with the Honourable Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities.

"I also want to say a huge shout out to (Portage-Lisgar MP) Candice Bergen who has been on this file for the last year, and ensuring the communication has been there between us and the department...especially since she is in Opposition, how she's had the ability to communicate with the government on this file has been much appreciated," added Harder.