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Paragon of haste

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 The NPA Council agreed to PavCo’s request, and work began in the spring of 2008.  The city planners were put on a fast track because PavCo wanted the deal done before the civic election scheduled for November 2008.  After all, there’s nothing like a new council to throw a wrench in your plan for favourable zoning and other incentives. 

Planners and city staff met with PavCo and other commercial enterprises in the area.  They met with residents affected by the redevelopment.  They commissioned a study of job potential and commercial space needs. 

And in September 2008 Vancouver’s Director of Planning was ready to report back to the NPA Council.   The report gave PavCo a bundle of changes that set the stage for the Paragon deal. 

First, the planners increased commercial and reduced residential floor space for the area, making a residential-based development less profitable and a commercially-based development more profitable.  The new ratios better accommodated hotels and commercial enterprises.  That recommendation was supported by a Colliers’ study of jobs and land use in the Downtown core.

Secondly, Pavco got a mysterious gift – land use amendments to permit a “major casino”. “Council,” the report recommended “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.”

We know where the idea for a “major art gallery” came from – Ken Dobell was working for both the Office of the Premier and City of Vancouver on a new site for the Vancouver Art Gallery.  And the Premier was supportive of a Bilbao-like site on the edge of False Creek.  That was enough to make the art gallery land use amendment a fait accompli.

The “major casino” recommendation is another matter.  It appeared out of nowhere.  In fact it went against recent City policy.  In January 2004, City Council explicitly approved a time-limited zoning for the Edgewater Casino at the Plaza of Nations.  According to that zoning by-law, Edgewater would have to relocate away from False Creek by 2008. 

In May 2006 the new NPA Council granted a five-year extension to Paragon Gaming, the new Edgewater owners, so they could begin the search for a new site. 

And then out of nowhere, in a planning process initiated by PavCo to meet their BC Place re-development zoning needs, a “major casino” is added to the list of appropriate zonings for the BC Place lands.

The Council report admits that the casino zoning change was not supported by any studies.  Nor was it part of the public information sessions set up with residents.

The implication for the final shape of the BC Place redevelopment is obvious.  The increase of commercial space gave a leg up to a commercially-based development.  The addition of a “major casino” as a permitted use gave a leg up to a commercial development that included a casino.  With the zoning changes a proposal for casino-based commercial development on the BC Place lands was a slam-dunk.

And only one company was in a position to make that bid. Only one company held an operating license to operate a casino in the area:  Paragon Gaming, the owners of the Edgewater Casino. 

Is it any wonder that PavCo’s subsequent Request for Expressions of Interest produced only two proposals and only Paragon’s was serious?  That result was inevitable when the PavCo-requested amendments to the Official Development Plan were passed at the final meeting of the NPA Council in October 2008. 

Editor's note:  The author of this story worked for the original owners of Edgewater on the 2004 rezoning of the casino. 

Paragon Gaming's Scott Menke  (below)  in a photograph by Peter Hoist

Paragon's first 'Indian Casino' in Coachella, California (pictured below)

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