'A lot of events are walking away'
TRURO - At least one organization that holds its annual event at the Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition (NSPE) is moving this year because of increased costs for using the facility.
The Down East Nova Scotia Bluegrass and Oldtime Music Festival was held last July at the exhibition grounds in Bible Hill. Organizers of the event have been told by exhibition officials that this year's price would be double from last year.
And the threat of further economic losses to the NSPE is prompting Colchester County council to write letters of concern to provincial officials, including Nova Scotia Premier Stephen MacNeil, Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell and Economic and Rural Development Minister Michael Samson. Letters are also going out to areas MLAs, the mayor of Truro and the Truro and Colchester Chamber of Commerce.
"I'm concerned right now with what's happening at the Ex," Coun. Lloyd Gibbs said in raising the issue at this week's council meeting. "A lot of events are walking away," he said, because of increased prices being charged by interim NSPE manager Raymond Tynes.
"Are we sure of all this?" asked Coun. Christine Blair, after a number of councillors had expressed concern about the perceived departure of various events and the associated economic loss to the commumity. "I think we're jumping the gun on this," she said, of council's decision to have staff send out letters of concern.
When questioned about the issue, Colwell said Tynes should not be arbitrarily increasing any rates and that he has been working to correct the situation.
"Well he shouldn't do that without the permission of Mr. Kennedy," the minister said, of the former NSPE commission chairman, whom Colwell has appointed chairman of a three-person interim panel that will be overseeing the administration of the facility until more permanent arrangements have been made.
"I had given instructions to the facility to keep the prices the same as last year unless there was something unusual, like if we lost money and we could prove it internally. And then we would renegotiate."
Council expressed concerns about the possibility of also losing such events as the 4-H Pro Show (the group's largest provincial show in Canada which generally attracts about 10,000 visitors) and also the Down East Nova Scotia Bluegrass and Oldtime Music Festival.
"I told the 4-H people that it would be the same price as had been negotiated. I had told the antique auto club it was the same thing," Colwell said. "I don't think our manager at the time really portrayed that."
Rob MacLellan, president of the Golden Age Auto Club Show and Shine, said his group decided to change locations this year primarily because its fee to use the facility had been increased from $7,000 to $8,200, plus tax. Although there was some room for negotiation in the new price, MacLellan said the club ultimately decided to hold its two-day show this year at the Colchester Legion Stadium, which they are renting for approximately $1,000.
"It's just because it's cost prohibitive," MacLellan said of leaving the NSPE grounds.
"It's a huge resource for the community and I'm certainly a huge supporter of the site," he said. "I'm a little disappointed that we can't use it because of the price."
Margaret Congdon, the central region director with the 4-H council, said her group has booked a facility in Windsor as a back up because the price they were given to hold the Pro Show at the NSPE this year had almost doubled from the $15,000 they were charged last year.
But Colwell said he has provided instructions to also rectify that situation.
"Our total intention is do that. We want to keep the 4-H there and work with them to see if they can utilize the facility even more," he said. "I don't want to do anything to interfere with the 4-H. 4-H is very important to the province, they are a great organization."
Rob Salmon, chairman of the bluegrass festival, said his group had also been told this year's price would be double from last year, although negotiations are underway to lower that amount.
"They're initial offering was completely unworkable," he said, adding a final decision on where the festival will be held will be made in the near future.
Meanwhile, Colwell said he is available to speak to any NSPE users who have questions or are experiencing difficulties with their arrangements at the facility.
"If they don't call we can't help," he said.