In less than two weeks BC’s Legislature sits for the first time in over eight months. Given the number of scandals the BC Liberal government has created in the interim there’s no shortage of material for the Opposition.
But here’s something that I believe the Opposition should raise:
Did Pat Bell lie about BC Place’s casino project in the legislature?
In May 2010, under questioning from Spencer Chandra Herbert, Bell 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 that only changed after the 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 discussion was important because “specific discussions”, as Bell called them, a year before the RFP raise issues of fairness and even legality regarding the government’s procurement process for the half billion dollar project.
Documents obtained through FOI appear to put the lie to Bell’s statements. Pavco officials including BC Place CEO Howard Crosley and Pavco CEO Warren Buckley met with Paragon through the spring of 2008.
By summer Pavco officials and consultants were putting forward Paragon’s planning issues at meetings of the joint City/Pavco committee charged with drawing up the by-law changes necessary for the development to proceed.
According to a memo drafted in June 2008 by City Planner Paula Huber detailing issues discussed at the Joint PavCo/City of Vancouver project steering committee “PavCo has significant concerns about the amount of the setback as the podium would need to be reduced to accommodate the ROW [Right of Way] and may serious affect the floor plate requirements of a future casino tenant.”
Huber went on to say “the City remains firm on the requirement to protect adequate space for this important transportation element.”
At the same meeting PavCo consultant Brent MacGregor noted “Casino/hotel as the potential uses at West End fronting Smithe.”
The issue of the Casino floorplate vs the streetcar right of way dogged the committee through the summer. In an issues matrix dated August 9th, 2008 Committee Chair Ken Dobell under the heading “CASINO” noted Pavco’s site plan “allows for a very large floor plate filling in almost the entire infill site to the west of the stadium.” Dobell summed up PavCo’s rationale, “this is to allow for the large floor plate of the Casino.”
The issue of what would happen to the streetcar remained unresolved although PavCo got the floorplate it needed for the casino.
At the same June 16th meeting PavCo’s team went over floor space needs as well the steetcar right of way.
The issue raised by PavCo was the commercial residential land use mix. PavCo wanted more commercial and less residential and again meeting notes suggest that demand was related to a planned casino development.
Next to his notes on the floor space numbers and land use Pavco’s consultant former Deputy City Manager Brent MacGregor noted “Casino, change in market mix.”
Finally, PavCo’s land use and floor plate issues came together as the False Creek North Official Development Plan Report to Council was drafted and commented on.
In a version from PavCo with the notation “Changes shown in bold and strikeout” the following addition was made:
“126.96.36.199 Cultural, Recreational, and Institutional Uses Serving the City and Region
“The proximity of the Stadium, GM Place, and Science World, and their ready access to public transit, reinforces the role of the area as a centre for entertainment, sprots, and cultural and public events, serving the city and region.
To enhance this role, Council may allow sub area zonings to include other cultural and recreational facilities, including a major art gallery and a major casino, that will also serve the city and region.
Not only was there discussion of what would go on the site, contrary to Bell’s statement in the Legislature, the discussion ensured Paragon’s floor plate and commercial space needs were specifically accommodated in the final by-law amendments, often contrary to the City’s official position.
That deal was done eight months before the actual procurement process for the development of the BC Place lands began.
With his statement to the Legislature Bell appears to be covering up a badly skewed procurement process.