Blunderdome: politics, positioning and a costly retractable roof

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 According to the HLT data, the highest potential new annual revenue to BC Lottery Corporation from this massive casino expansion, after paying the City of Vancouver’s share, will be $32 million.

Thirty-two million dollars to the provincial treasury--against PavCo’s assurances of $224 million annually.

 This means new revenue to the City of only $3.5 million. About $6 per Vancouverite.  A coffee and a sandwich, basically.  That’s a startling variance.

 That Roof

 But wait, there’s more.  This thing is not a stand-alone deal--there’s a retractable roof attached to it. The public will pay almost $600 million for the roof on BC Place, and according to David Podmore, the casino revenue was necessary to pay for it. But if HLT is correct, the casino revenue will barely cover the interest payments on the debt, assuming the cost of the roof stays constant at $563 million.

 All decisions were made and construction started before City Council gave its approval to the casino.  Making things worse, if PavCo had known the casino would not pass City Council, it’s doubtful a retractable roof would have been built at all.

 Back in 2009 word came out of the provincial government that cabinet was losing enthusiasm for a retractable roof, and showing more interest in the much less expensive option of replacing the old air supported roof with a new one.

 Enter Rick Turner, Paragon Gaming’s man for all seasons. Turner has quite the resume.  He is a director and part owner of Paragon Gaming, a major BC Liberal Party donor, and the former chair of the BC Lottery Corporation. He purchased his interest in Paragon Gaming while he was Chair of the Lottery Corporation. He did resign his position with the Lottery Corporation prior to Paragon purchasing the then failed Edgewater Casino. When Turner got wind of cabinet’s waning enthusiasm for a retractable roof, he picked up the phone and called Kevin Krueger, the minister responsible.  The bottom line of that conversation was that if PavCo didn’t put a retractable roof on the stadium, Paragon would walk.

 It’s impossible to say whether this call made all the difference, but PavCo did opt for the more costly retractable roof. We don’t know the cost of opening and closing the roof--which cannot be done in the rain.  It’s worth noting that the stadiums only sports team tenants, the BC Lions and Whitecaps, play a total of 14 home games during the summer season.

 Inquiring Minds Want to Know

 Questions must be asked, including the following:

 Why was construction on an expensive stadium roof option commenced before all necessary approvals for the casino were obtained from the City of Vancouver?

 Why has the public, the media, and the City been kept in the dark about the existence of a report disclosing the frailty of the business case on which this entire enterprise relies?

 Why was there no reference to the HLT findings in the Deloitte/Paragon report, which came out a year later?

 Why have David Podmore and Warren Buckley continued to cite the results of the Deloitte/Paragon report, when they know it is seriously compromised? 

 Why is the Vancouver Director of Planning citing figures from the Deloitte/Paragon report in his projections of revenues to the City, when BCLC does not support those numbers, even in its own presentation? 

 A handful of people make decisions that determine, to an extraordinary degree, massive outlays of public spending which not only places an onerous debt load on the public, but limits options for the future, and can change the course of the future for all of us. 

 Public attention focused on the casino expansion hearings have forced much of that decision making process into the open for all to see.

 Public servants are not only responsible for what they say, but for what they do not say.  What has PavCo and BC Lottery Corporation have not disclosed speaks volumes about just how government projects go wrong.

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