BC Place casino expansion move set up secretly by PavCo, FOI reveals
In the winter of 2007, PavCo met with then city manager Judy Rogers to discuss the redevelopment of BC Place Stadium. And they came with a proposal to fast track BC Place’s zoning requirements with PavCo paying half the cost.
Rogers agreed and set up a steering committee made up of key city staff. On top of that she hired her former boss and Gordon Campbell’s former Deputy Minister Ken Dobell to run the committee.
The work began in the spring of 2008 and ended with the passing of a new official development plan (ODP) at the last council meeting before the 2008 municipal election.
Committee member Trish French made the case for that date, saying "for sure we don’t want to go to the Dec. 16 C mtg [meeting] with a new council."
Roger’s report to council had one unusual item. It changed the zoning for the BC Place lands to add a new use: “major casino”.
That new use came out of nowhere. The public hadn’t asked for it. The city hadn’t asked for it. And there’s no record of a proponent asking for it. So where did that come from?
New documents obtained through an FOI to the City of Vancouver show that the idea came from PavCo.
The steering committee flagged PavCo’s desire to put the casino into a redeveloped BC Place early in the process. A “Summary of Issues” for the Committee’s August 8 meeting notes:
“An ideal use of the large podium on the west side is a casino and PavCois actively planning and protecting this potential” (my emphasis).
The summary went on to caution raising this issue: “Does not need to be specifically mentioned as part of the ODP report.”
There was, and is, only one prospective casino for that site, the Edgewater casino, which was required to relocate by 2013. Paragon Gaming, Edgewater’s operators, owned the last available casino license for the City of Vancouver.
Adding the casino use in a quiet way wasn’t the only issue to manage. Paragon had a specific floor space requirement that had design repercussions for both BC Place and the city.
For BC Place, it meant increasing the floor plate size to accommodate a bigger casino. That jeopardized a city right of way for transit use. Here's an excerpt from the document's summary issue section:
“Engineer is requiring a 6m ROW to allow for future street car movement on the north side of Pacific Boulevard near Smithe Street extension. This could inhibit the ability of PavCo to create a 90,000 + floor plate which is desired by a casino user (my emphasis).”
The city countered PavCo’s proposal for a floor plate design that would wipe out the transit route. “The casino” the steering committee minutes notes, “could be accommodated if on an upper floor, possible cantilevered.”
The cantilevered design was proposed to Stantec, PavCo’s design consultant on the BC Place project: “Staff have considered the possibility of allowing a cantilever and have provided clearance information to Stantec.”
This issue of the floor plate size was specific to the Casino according to the steering committee.