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.
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.