The Casino Play

The BC Pavilion Corporation planned the redevelopment of the BC Place Stadium to accommodate the new Paragon owned Casino complex ten months prior to selecting Paragon’s casino proposal in a supposedly open competition according to documents obtained through a City of Vancouver Freedom of Information request.

The documents track the city of Vancouver’s planning process for the BC Place lands conducted in the six months prior to the November 2008 Civic Election.

The process was initiated in January 2008 at the request of the BC Pavilion Corporation and was overseen by a select committee of senior civic and provincial officials including City Manager Judy Rogers and Premier Gordon Campbell’s long-time advisor Ken Dobell as well as an advisor from Partnerships BC.

According to a minute of the steering Committee, Dobell was responsible for contact with the provincial BC Pavilion Corporation.

The City documents reveal that the Pavilion Corporation had informed city officials that they were “talking to the casino about locating on the stadium site” months prior to the official Request For Proposal process that formally “selected” Paragon as the BC Place land developer.

Additionally, the documents reveal that eight months prior to issuing the RFP for the site the BC Pavilion Corporation had proposed a site plan designed specifically to accommodate the Casino, necessitating changes in the street pattern on Pacific Avenue.

The plan by the BC Pavilion Corporation to site the Edgewater casino – owned by Paragon Gaming of Nevada in partnership with high profile BC Liberal T. Richard Turner – at BC Place nine months before the Corporation’s Request For Proposals was even issued and ten months before Paragon was selected suggests that the RFP process was at best pre-determined.

According to a ”summary of issues” prepared for City Steering Committee and dated August 8th, 2008, the BC Pavilion Corporation had proposed a site plan to City staff that “allows for a very large floor plate filling in almost the entire infill site to the west of the stadium.  This is to allow for the large floor plate of the casino.”

The BC Pavilion Corporation did not issue the RFP for the BC Place development rights until April 20, 2009, ten months after the “summary of issues” note.

Last week Pat Bell, the Minister responsible for the BC Pavilion Corporation told the Legislature that “prior to the RFP there was no discussion of specifically what might go on that site, whether it be a casino or something of another nature. It was about a general theme, entertainment district, size of building, square footage allowed — that sort of discussion. So that’s kind of pre–November ’08 for that time frame.

According to Bell discussion about the casino did not take place until the BC Pavilion Corporation’s RFP process was concluded and Paragon was fairly selected.

“Once the request for expression of interest and then the RFP took place, Paragon became the likely proponent”, Bell told the Legislature. “The casino became a feature of it, and at that point in time, then, PavCo would at times have talked about the casino development.”

The city documents tell a dramatically different story.

The casino floor plate issue was number 15 of 24 issues relating to PavCo’s development proposal. The casino floor plate was highlighted because it entailed changes to street configuration.  A steering committee minute from July 18th 2008 noted that “proposed 6m/20’ taking on Pacific Blvd. for future streetcar is sensitive because possible casino needs to maximize floorplate.“

The 16th issue identified by the city in the August 2008 summary of issues is identified as “casino use”.  All details related to the “casino use” issue outlined in the summary were blacked out by City FOI staff.

The City of Vancouver’s Assistant Director of Planning Trish French re-iterated PavCo’s pre-existing relationship with Paragon a month before PavCo issued its Request for Proposals.  In an email sent March 24, 2009 French noted “PavCo indicated to us last year that they were talking to the casino folks about locating on the stadium site – they were planning the base of their western building to accommodate the large floor plate…”

In an apparent allusion to the unusual sequence of events, Ms. French pointedly noted that “at our recent meeting with PavCo where they talked about recruitment of a development partner, I deliberately didn’t ask whether casino was still a possibility.”

BC Pavilion Corporation Chair David Podmore, in a speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade on February 10th of this year, repeated what the Pavilion Corporation has been saying in defense of the RFP process since questions were first raised following the revelation that Liberal donor, Paragon partner and former BC Lottery Corporation Chairman T. Richard Turner called the minister responsible for PavCo to lobby on behalf of the Casino’s interests in the fall of 2009.

In his Board of Trade speech Podmore claimed “PavCo went out for proposals. We received 14 inquiries from our Request for Expressions of Interest on the opportunity to develop the parcel west of the stadium, which Scott’s company is focused on. In the end, we received two detailed proposals that were evaluated, and the Paragon proposal was considered the best and most beneficial to BC Place and to PavCo.”

The city documents a different process.  It’s a process that began in the earl months of 2008.  It included discussions between the BC Pavilion Corporation and the City of Vancouver about locating the casino with the stadium.  It turned into a plan that included building the western floorplate specifically to accommodate the Casino and it was signed, sealed and delivered in the fall of 2008, months before the official RFP and proponent selection.

And it was delivered with urgency.  As the city prepared to elect a new council in the fall of 2008, that urgency grew.

As the rezoning schedule took shape in late August 2008, Trish French reported to the Steering Committee:  “For sure we don’t want to go to the Dec 16C Mtg with a new Council, which could occur if we don’t get thru the PH (Public Hearing) on Oct 16.  So, that means we really really want to work the agenda so this BC Place Stadium item is completed on the 16th.”

They really, really worked it.

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4 Responses to The Casino Play

  1. Go back a couple of years earlier to the Development Permit Board Meeting of June 5, 2006. http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/dpboard/2006/minutes/jun5.htm#minutes4 I believe this was in the works way back then. Just saying~

  2. Ian says:

    Actually, different process, different outcome. That process renewed the existing casino zoning on the Plaza of Nations site for a temporary period, later extended to 2013. It did not rezone the BC Place lands to permit a casino use because that was not contemplated at the time. The report is on-line and I covered the related documents in my foi. It’s very clear from the city reports that the process that lead to the BC Place rezoning and casino development began in late 2007 with a meeting between PavCo and City Manager Judy Rogers. From there Pavco partnered with the city on the zoning process that produced this result.

  3. tf says:

    You’ve outlined what has been speculated, backed up by documents. Thank you.

    When Sean Holman first pointed out the role of T. Richard Turner, former CEO of BC Lottery, at that time current CEO of ICBC, and shareholder in Paragon, I saw the casino as a mirror image of the backroom sale of BC Rail.

    The sale of BC Rail was predetermined by Gordon Campbell, CN Chairman of the Board David McLean and Rocky Mountaineer CEO Peter Armstrong. The Big Boys win when they work behind closed doors with the BC Liberals.

    The only reason this particular casino expansion was stopped is because they had to get rezoning permission from the City. Otherwise, we’d have been in court again with a couple patsies.

    And the fact Christy Clark is a woman doesn’t change the fact she wants to play with the Big Boys:)

  4. RossK says:

    Thanks very much for all this work Ian.

    Clearly, based on these documents one can only conclude that, at the very least, the public trust was abused through this entire process. At worst, well….

    And it is good to see that one more hat has been identified to he who has, by his own admission worn very many.

    Are you going to post the documents for all to see?

    .

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