COCHRANE— The Cochrane and District Ag Society has secured a deal with Rocky View County to ensure they will be able to provide a space for community and recreation for decades to come.
At the Tuesday (Oct. 27) Rocky View County council meeting, the council voted to finalize the sale of the Cochrane Ag Society Park, giving full ownership of the land to the Cochrane and District Agricultural Society for the cost of $1.
Society president Justin Burwash said the organization is grateful to Rocky View County and their commitment to supporting recreation and community services in the Cochrane area.
“This is absolutely the best solution we could have hoped for— They deserve a big thank you for doing this for all the residents,” Burwash said. “We’re tremendously excited for our future now that we’ve got security over our home for the long term.”
The park sits on about 146-acres within the Town of Cochrane on the Northwest corner of Highways 22 and 1A. The Airdrie City View reported he lands were most recently appraised in June 2019, with an estimated net value of $5.9 million.
Burwash said the land will continue to be used as a recreational space for Cochranites and residents of the surrounding area.
Since it began in 1910 the Cochrane Ag Society Park has grown to become a regional recreational facility that sees more than 65,000 visitors come through the gates each year.
As part of the deal, Burwash noted, a stipulation has been included creating a 20-year restricted use covenant to ensure they continue to use the space for community and recreation services.
“It isn’t restrictive at all from our perspective,” Burwash said. “With the infrastructure we have in place and the plans we have this is going to go long, long past that 20-year mark.”
The topic of land security has been at the top of Ag Society member's minds for about four years, Burwash said.
The conversation was sparked after a request for a lease extension from Rocky View County— The original lease was set to end in 2025. The council at that time explored the option of selling the land to the society.
“There were some highs and lows over those past four years, and I guess real nervousness at certain times about what our future stability and security would be over our home,” Burwash said. “It’s been a long process.”
Lawyers on both sides are finishing off the final draft of the land sale and the transfer will soon be completed.
In preparation for the transaction coming to an end, the Cochrane and District Agricultural Society is now busy planning for the future of the park and their sustainability.
“We’re done one phase of our site planning and we’ll kick into the second phase of it now that we have security over this being our home,” Burwash said. “We’re really trying to plan out the next 20 to 30 years of design and development on the site.”
The ultimate goal he said is to ensure they are meeting the community and recreational needs of Cochrane area residents.
“This is a huge win for the community,” Burwash said. “We’ll continue to work closely with Rocky View over the facility and what we’re offering there, but we’ll also work very closely with the Town of Cochrane and try and integrate with their recreation and parks planning.”
The goal is to build amenities that complement each other with what is planned in the county and Town.
The most exciting things coming up will be finalizing their site plan. Once this is done the Ag Society can begin building a capital funding plan and look at the phases needed to accomplish their goals.
The site plan includes a larger indoor arena with seating for spectators and a larger barn. Burwash noted these plans are being designed with multi-use functionality in mind.
He added they also hope to be able to host community dinners, fundraisers, celebrations and weddings when the facility expands.
“We’re hoping we can kind of hit those points that we think are needed in both Cochrane and the geographically close county residents," Burwash said.
Moving forward the aim of the Society is to strike a balance between the traditional role Ag Societies have played in communities while looking towards the future.
“Ag societies they’ve really done a lot in communities,” Burwash said. “You don’t think of it being the Ag Society behind a lot of it— But, if you look at a lot of the rural communities all the ice hockey rinks are there because of the Ag Societies.”
The mission and vision of the Society is to try and bring rural and urban members of the community together.
The Cochrane Ag Society is in a distinctive position because it is located in an urban centre that serves to provide community services and recreation— This gives them a unique ability to help Cochrane and the surrounding area.
Burwash cited how the Ag Society is able to help people when there are emergency evacuation orders, host drive-in movies, manage the Cochrane Fair, host horse shows, host markets and more.
Securing the land is exciting news because they will be able to maintain these practices, Burwash said, and he hopes next year they will be able to get onto a more normal experience that includes the Cochrane Fair.
Fortunately, he added, the Ag Society was structured in a way that has allowed them to weather the COVID-19 economic storm and maintain a healthy financial position.
“Despite COVID we came out in a financially strong position this year,” Burwash said. “We own our land now, and now we can focus on some really exciting things in the future.”
The Cochrane and District Ag Society has its AGM coming up in December, Burwash said, and the organization is encouraging the community to attend and learn about the future of the facility.
Rocky View County did not respond to The Cochrane Eagle's request for comment.