BC Place Audit: A new and better reason for the Auditor General to investigate

Paragon’s BC Place/Casino proposal

The BCNDP has made a formal complaint to the Auditor General regarding the BC Place redevelopment project.  Bob Mackin is the only reporter covering the story over at the Tyee:

“Spencer Chandra Herbert, the Opposition critic for B.C. Pavilion Corporation, made a formal written complaint on Jan. 11 to John Doyle, seeking a value for money audit of the budgetary decisions throughout the process of rebuilding B.C. Place.”

(A note: I provided Herbert with PavCo documents obtained through FOI, amongst which was the one that lead to his complaint).

Herbert’s complaint centers around the escalation of the cost from $100 million to $500 million plus without a business plan for the project.

That’s not the only issue that should concern the Auditor.

Another is whether the procurement process for the developer of the adjacent site was fair and above board:  In other words, was the selection corrupted?

It’s a significant question not the least because the casino dependent proposal selected by the BC Pavillion Corporation was to pay for cost of the renovation.  The collapse of the Casino proposal when PavCo presented the final plan at public hearing left British Columbians on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Documents recently released to me through a lengthy and delayed FOI process cast significant doubt on the fairness of the RFP process.

Not only did PavCo meet repeatedly with only one potential proponent – Paragon – well before the procurement process, PavCo used the planning process to accommodate Paragon’s specific design and floor space needs far in advance of the RFP.

The RFP selection was made de facto, at least eight months prior to the RFP’s public release.

***

As I disclosed in a prior post, PavCo began meeting with Paragon Gaming – the RFP winner – almost as soon as the planning process began in the Spring of 2008.  The RFP process for selecting that proponent began a year later in the Spring of 2009.

It has to be said that it is not unusual with a project the size of the BC Place renewal to suss out possible proponents.

It is unusual and raises questions of fairness to suss out only one possible proponent among many.  And that’s what PavCo did, focusing it’s attention on Paragon Gaming.

If PavCo felt a casino was critical to the development there are many better qualified for the development of casino, entertainment and hotel complexes.

In fact, Paragon has no experience with that kind of development with it’s record of running small “Indian” casinos in one or two locations in the US.  Lack of experience was behind its failure to qualify for a similar project in Missouri just prior to the PavCo bid.

Regardless, PavCo confined its outreach to Paragon, meeting with their Vice President of Planning amongst others throughout the Spring of 2008, a year before the RFP.

Paragon Gaming VP Planning John Cahill with President Scott Menke at Vancouver City Hall

But PavCo went much further than meeting with officers of Paragon.  PavCo used the city planning process to further Paragon’s design needs nine months before there was an RFP and a year before Paragon was selected.

That raises the question: was PavCo’s RFP for the half a billion dollar project a sham?

***

As spring turned into summer in 2008, the City and PavCo were meeting once a week to go over the planning elements that would result in development guidelines and supporting amendments to the City’s by-laws.

The committee was determined to complete it’s task, come hell or high water, before November when a new council would be elected.

A number of issues were raised and dealt with – pedestrian access, parking, built form etc… – but one kept raising it’s ugly unresolvable head – streetcar setback.

Now what does streetcar setback have to do with a casino?

For a while the city of Vancouver wanted to run a streetcar parallel to Pacific Boulevard and had set aside a six meter right of way for the future streetcar.

PavCo wanted the setback reduced.  Why?  To accommodate an extra-large casino.

Here’s the minute from the Planning Committee minutes of July 17th 2008:

“Streetcar Setback – The City is requesting a 6m ROW (right of way) along Pacific Boulevard within 80m of Smithe Street to allow for streetcar requirements that are still in flux.  PAVCO has significant concerns about the amount of the setback as the podium would need to be reduced to accommodate the ROW and may seriously affect the floor plate requirements of a future casino tenant.”

In other words the Casino wanted a bigger floor plate than the city felt it could accommodate without sacrificing it’s streetcar plans.  And PavCo argued on the Casino’s behalf.

But why would PAVCO be arguing on behalf of a future casino tenant when the RFP that would select the future casino tenant was at least 8 months in the future and the winner wouldn’t be known for a year?  Or rather, how did PavCo know what the future would bring?

It appears that the work that should have been done after a proponent had been selected was done prior, making the RFP redundant.  The proponent, it seems, was already in place and calling the shots during the planning process.

That sounds an awful lot like a very suspicious RFP and one that the Auditor General should be interested in looking at very closely.

***

BTW, PavCo and Paragon got their way in the planning process.  The City more or less caved and said build what you want.  We’ll see what comes of it.

Representing the City in the debate was Ken Dobell, former deputy to the Premier of BC.   Dobell was hired by his former underling Judy Rogers.  Rogers now chairs BC Housing.

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14 Responses to BC Place Audit: A new and better reason for the Auditor General to investigate

  1. tf says:

    Thanks for all your work Ian!
    I finished reading this latest and was pulled back by the note about Judy Rogers chairing BC Housing.
    This is off-topic to PavCo, Paragon and BCLC, but the news that BC Housing is financially supporting the private condo development of Sequel 138 in Vancouver’s DTES has struck me as completely off mandate. The press has reported the funding from BC Housing was to revitalize the neighbourhood. The question stuck me as curious – since when does BC Housing have anything to do with revitalizing neighbourhoods?
    The Sequel 138 development is the result of the shameful loss of the historic Pantages theatre on Hastings at Main.
    There are very curious deals with the province, the city, and private developers going on in the neighbourhood.
    Thanks again Ian! All the best with your health!

  2. Don F. says:

    I question the wisdom, or should I say, lack of wisdom shown by the NDP in the timing of this formal complaint to the auditor general one week after his very public ousting by the Liberal government.
    An issue of this magnitude surely would have given pause to the special commitees eagerness to press the No button on Mr. Doyle renewal for fear of public outcries.
    As it sits now there is very little chance that given his workload and his time remaining to him Mr. Doyle will be at a loss as to how to do justice to this issue.
    I am deeply concerned that this is nothing more than an opportunity for the NDP to present an election issue before the puplic and less of an effort on their part to bring forth any justice to the people of this province for the theft of their tax dollars.

  3. Steve Cooley says:

    Should this audit find that the redevelopement was out of order, what could the remedy be?

  4. Ian says:

    Don,
    Pavco and the government are responsible for the timing. The FOI was first filed almost a year ago. Pavco received three extensions and didn’t release the documents until mid November. Because I was away I didn’t get to them until December. And believe it or not I do some fact checking and further research before I publish. As does the NDP critic.

    Believe me, I wish the government had released them months earlier.

    Ian

  5. Don F. says:

    Ian, thanks for your reply and also for bringing this issue to the forefront.
    My trouble on this issue is that we have all been aware of massive overuns on this project for well over a year. I struggle with the fact that the latest FOI could finally be enough incentive for the NDP critic to finally approach the Auditor General, there was plenty of cause before now.
    It is what it is at this point but I beleive that if a little more aggression was put forth a little earlier it could possibly have changed the situation with our Auditor General we are now facing. To go to him now seems well shallow at best. An opportunity missed.

  6. Pingback: BC Place Audit: A new and better reason.. | On First Nation Issues, Jobs, Events, And Environmental Issues On The West Coast And World Events.

  7. Grant G says:

    Good stuff Mr. Reid…Really good stuff..

    There are 2 issues above in comments I would like to respond to..

    1) As for the casino development paying for the renovations..That is true, however, if memory serves me correct, that payment was over a 35 year period, so, in reality we the taxpayers would shoulder the cost anyway, the “cost” to the casino for the renovations didn`t include 3/12 decades of carrying cost, and..

    Paragon and other gaming outfits, it has been revealed that BCLC has been subsidizing “private gamers”, subsidizing renovations, additions, maintenance, and it appeared that BCLC was going to be subsidizing the entire cost of Paragon`s renovation bill that was going to come in the form of a yearly lease..
    Paragon, the fact that it was theoretically raising revenue for BCLC ….As you know a percentage of Paragon`s gaming revenue flows to BCLC…A cushy arrangement has developed in recent years between BCLC and big casinos, casinos expend monies to attract more gaming revenue and BCLC picks up the cost..

    There were rumblings in the backrooms that Paragon`s entire yearly “lease” was to be payed for by BCLC in the form of subsidized kickbacks…Check the records Ian, I`ll dig a little bit later…

    BCLC has paid $millions to casinos (for casino expenses)..
    In other words, it`s my informed opinion that lobbyists and insiders have figured out a real winning game..Casinos expend money to increase revenues and our BC Liberal corporate friendly Government funnels money back to them through guile…and we the public end up paying..

    2)As for the question posed above.. what is the remedy if the auditor general finds a corrupted process?

    I`m not sure, nothing more than bad press I suppose, as there is NO GIANT CASINO..
    Kinda like a bunch of young broke teenagers, teenagers talk about robbing a bank, they plan out the date, the time, the exit, but in the 11th hour the heist is called off..

    Can they be charged?…Don`t think so..

    Lastly, as for cost overruns, there was a giant Quebec construction company involved in the erection of said roof..
    Corruption and Quebec?..Bribe, payoffs????

    Exactly…and more..By jacking up the roof price(at that time)..More money for payoffs and…

    And a bigger hit to the public taxpayer, all that money and then the corporate spinners attack(which they did) It came in the form of the “Casino” expansion(Being advertised) through the spinners that Paragon will pay for ALL THOSE EXPENSIVE RENOVATIONS THROUGH A YEARLY LEASE…

    To which the public thinks is great, cuz it removes the cost burden($700 million)..

    Yet the “lease” is soooo longggg, and so smalllllll….And the uninformed public doesn`t know(or learn) that BCLC(you the taxpayers) are actually paying for Paragon`s lease..

    Welcome to the BC Liberal Zoo….”What a tangled web we weave when first you practice to deceive”

    Cheers

  8. RossK says:

    Re: Timing, etc….

    I think it is important to remember that the fluffers were out in force in the media from the very beginning trying to make this an anti-Dipper wedge issue like the faux six pack tax and the evil, striking teachers before it.

    _____
    Wrote about that in the run-up to the 2009 election for anybody interested….here.

    .

  9. Pingback: BC Place Not Over-Budget – Things Just Got Added On along the Way ! | Aim High Salmon Arm

  10. Don F. says:

    My apologies if I have ruffled some feathers here as that was not my intent. For me it has been more me questioning things like my alliances. I have voted NDP in the last three provincial elections and given funding when I could. I have a vested interest in them.
    It is my opinion that Mr. Doyle has surpassed what has been expected and has done an exemplary job on behalf of the people of this province. Could more have been done on his behalf? Could public attention on his demise been provided? These are my questions.
    Ross K. I remember reading that article you provide from 2009 and realize it was spot on!

  11. Ian says:

    No apology needed Don. I too am unhappy that this issue took so long to get any serious scrutiny. The cost and the process resulted in a project that was poorly thought out, with continuing consequences for average people across BC. All aspects should be investigated.

  12. None of the Above says:

    Ian, thank you for all your hard work on this. It’s people like you, Alex and Norm who go above and beyond and keep this focus on this corrupt Liberal party and all their backroom dealings that have harmed this province for generations to come.

  13. Ian says:

    Thank you very much.
    Ian

  14. nonconfidencevote says:

    I always wondered waaaaay back when this boondoggle of a roof was first discussed…. What was wrong with the old roof?
    It was obviously good enough for the Owe-limp-icks opening and closing ceremonies.

    The entire project reeks to high heaven.

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