Small change makes big difference for Exhibition Centre

Vice president of Westman group Curtis Farmer presented Jesse Vanden Berg and mayor Martin Harder with a $500,000 installation cheque toward the Meridian Exhibition Centre. Vanden Berg’s $20 that he brought to council two years ago kickstarted the process of completing the Meridian Exhibition Centre. (LAUREN MACGILL, Winkler Times)

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The city is in good financial shape and is continuing to grow, according to mayor Martin Harder.

Harder delivered the State of the City address at the Winkler & District Chamber of Commerce AGM on Feb. 28, with a focus on the upcoming Meridian Exhibition Centre.

As part of his presentation, he honoured a young Winkler resident whose desire to get a soccer facility played a role in getting the centre started.

Twelve-year-old Jesse Vanden Berg came to council almost two years ago to make the case for an indoor soccer pitch. He donated $20 of his own money to get the project started, and at the AGM helped Harder accept an installation cheque from vice president of Westman Group Incorporated Curtis Farmer for $500,000.

“It was pretty good to see it all come together,” Vanden Berg said. “It was kind of how I imagined it.”

Vanden Berg said the facility is needed for the soccer community in the area. “Every Wednesday evening there’s a group of guys that come together, the Pembina Valley Panthers, and we practice in the gym,” he said. “This will just be a great opportunity for the club to get together and play on a real turf facility.”

Harder said it is the small things, like Vanden Berg’s donation of $20, that make the difference. “That’s what this community is about,” he said. “We have small businesses grow into big businesses. A lot of the businesses that start with one or two people in their garage and they end up employing hundreds of people today. [Vanden Berg’s] example of coming in with a $20 bill… to me that’s just the seed that has grown and now here we have Meridian with a $1.25 million contribution.”

“To have this young guy Jesse to take this $20 and the half a million dollar cheque and see what can happen… to me that’s what this community is all about,” he added.

Harder also showed a virtual tour of the new facility, which will have a sledge hockey friendly arena, walking path and soccer pitch.

Harder said being able to show off definite plans for the space was a good feeling.

“All good things take time,” he said. “It is an exciting time for the community, it will create some awesome changes, create some opportunities that we’ve never had before. It is going to be worth the wait.”

The facility is expected to be complete in 12-14 months.

The city issued $88 million in building permits (double the record number), and the city’s debt has fallen from approximately $13 million in 2010 to $4 million in 2018 and the reserves have grown from $4 million to $12 million in that time.

This turnaround is why the community was ready to build the Meridian Exhibition Centre, Harder said.

Harder also said that while the growing business side of Winkler should be celebrated, the wellbeing of residents was a primary indicator of a community’s success.

“Mental health and wellness is what creates business,” he said. “If you’ve got a disgruntled employee because there’s something going on in his mind that he can’t deal with, he’s not going to be a good employee. Your business can’t grow. This is the nucleus that makes community, this is what makes businesses grow.”

“That’s what’s so exciting about it,” he added. “To see all the community work together for the better good of the entire region. It just has hit me in the last number of years how valuable that really is. It’s not all about bricks and mortar. It’s a lifestyle.”