It’s been months and months since I wrote on BC Place. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working. This week it paid off.
I finally received part of an FOI containing the consultant agreements and billings of Brent MacGregor, BC Pavillion corporation’s chief consultant guiding the redevelopment of BC Place.
MacGregor’s billings show that Paragon Gaming was in the thick of things a year before an RFP for developers was issued by the BC Pavillion Corporation (Pavco).
MacGregor retired as Deputy City Manager in July of 2007. He was known as a consumate dealmaker with a strong knowledge of the approval process and ability to do deals to move developments forward. And he had worked with Ken Dobell at city hall for 30 years.
Four months later Pavco hired him to run the BC Place redevelopment proposal.
According to the schedule of services, MacGregor was to “provide advice on all aspects of the rezoning of the Project lands and coordinate the rezoning sumission to the City, for approval through the Public Hearing process and enactment of the approved zoning.”
MacGregor was also to “provide advice on the evaluation and selection of consultants and contractors to undertake specific aspects of the work. ”
The job started right away and was rushed by the civic election timeline. As city planner Trish French noted the team assigned by both Pavco and the City wanted to get this through Council before a little thing like an election screwed it up.
And they completed the job. At the last council meeting before the 2008 Civic election Council approved a new Official Development plan for BC Place and the adjacent lands. The new plan mysteriously included rezoning for an expanded casino.
The new FOI obtained from Pavco after six months of delays sheds light on how the casino option came to be and raises further questions of fairness in the RFP process.
According to MacGregor’s billings he was meeting with Paragon Gaming almost as soon as the city agreed to the planning process at the end of January 2008.
In February, MacGregor was touring the stadium and meeting with architects and consultants regarding roof options.
By the first week in March he was working on the casino part of the project – except that officially there wasn’t a casino part for at least another year.
Here are MacGregor’s billing entries:
“5-Mar-08 emails, casino and environmental meetings
7-Mar-08 various telcons re Casino and roof
11-Mar-08 meeting Cahill re casino and City re ODP”
Cahill. That’s John Cahill, VP Planning at Paragon Gaming. Here’s what Paragon says about him – “Mr. Cahill is a principal of Paragon and a founding member of the management team. He has over thirty years of experience in all phases of real estate development, with a special emphasis on pre-construction project management.”
“Pre-construction project management”. I guess that’s the same as pre-rfp project management.
These weren’t just feelers. This was cutting to the chase. Throughout this process MacGregor did not talk to any other potential developers. No other casino operators. No hotel developers. Nobody.
MacGregor’s meetings with Paragon – there were many more – suggest that BC Place wasn’t looking for the best casino operator, they were working with just one – Paragon.
A year before the RFP “selected” Paragon.
In April 2008 there were more meetings with Paragon. One with Cahill and BC Place CEO Howard Crossley and the consulting architect Peter Wreglesworth of Stantec architects. Another with Cahill. Emails and telephone calls between Cahill and Pavco CEO Warren Buckley.
The working meetings with Cahill continued over the summer including meeting with Dobell and and Pavco’s lawyer Larry Sandrin just before the new Official Development Plan with the expanded casino zoning went to Council members.
From the pattern of events emerging from MacGregor’s billings it can be argued that the RFP for developers issued by Pavco was little more than window dressing. Paragon Gaming was the only one at the table right from the beginning.
A 250 million dollar development of public land. One real proponent who happened to donate $50,000 to the government in the 2009 election – after achieving a rezoning permitting a casino expansion. Plus a part owner who’s a friend of the government chairing a major government corporation.
A plan so badly put together it went down to defeat at a real public hearing two years later, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
And taxpayers paid MacGregor up to $150,000 a year for four years for this?