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Nearly 1.4M people visited The Ex in 2012

The numbers are in and 1.39 million people visited the Ex over 18 days this summer, according to the general manger of the Canadian National Exhibition.

“Paid attendance was up 13 per cent over the 2011 CNE, which was itself a very well-attended event,” David Bednar said at the CNE’s annual general meeting on Thursday.

“We expect to achieve a surplus over budget for a second consecutive year,” he said.

The news comes as the city is grappling with what do with the exhibition grounds. Last year, an external audit from consulting firm KPMG for the city suggested selling the Ex, and lobbyists from MGM have been eyeing the grounds as a possible site for a proposed Toronto casino.

The president of the Canadian National Exhibition Association (CNEA) said that the strong summer puts the Ex in a good position to separate from the city.  It has been a city program since 1983.

“The strong performance of the past two CNEs leaves the event in a very positive position as we move towards independence from Exhibition Place and the City of Toronto,” Brian Ashton said Thursday in a release.

Earlier this year, Coun. Mark Grimes, who chairs the Ex’s board, said that making the CNE an independent entity would save the city money, should the fair have a bad year.

“You have a bad year, the Toronto taxpayer is kind of on the hook,” Grimes had told CityNews in January.

“If there’s a good year, there’ll be a surplus and the city would take that back into the coffers. If there’s a bad year the city would write the cheque to cover the CNE.”

Ashton said that as of April 1, 2013, the CNEA would be a non-share capital corporation, not a program of Exhibition Place and the city.

However, Ashton said he was “worried” about a casino.

“There is no possible way that the CNE the public has known and loved for the past 134 years could be staged on the radically reduced footprint that would remain after the construction of a mammoth Casino complex,” he said.

“We are not necessarily opposed to the construction of a Casino Entertainment Complex in the Greater Toronto Area, we just do not want it to be on the Exhibition Place grounds,” he added.