Source: Michael Smyth, The Province
The B.C. government has just inked a mega-deal with a private-sector partner to develop the lands west of B.C. Place Stadium, and sources are whispering words to me like "all-in," "double-down" and "baby needs a new a pair of shoes!"
Picture this, Vancouver: A huge new entertainment-and-retail complex, directly attached to the refurbished stadium with a snazzy retractable roof, and all anchored by — you got it — a shiny new casino.
That was the red-hot buzz burning along the government grapevine Thursday, as word leaked out that the B.C. Pavilion Corp. had signed the long-awaited development deal for the stadium lands.
"I can confirm that we have an agreement with a party and there will be an official announcement in about two weeks," said David Podmore, CEO of the Crown corporation that owns our loved-and-hated pillow-top stadium.
Podmore confirmed the air-supported fabric roof will be deflated once and for all in May, and construction will start immediately on the new, $563-million, retractable model.
He said the 700,000-square-foot parking lot between the Cambie Street Bridge and the stadium will be transformed into a commercial-entertainment extravaganza.
"We want to create an exciting environment that will reanimate and reactivate a plaza that, right now, is pretty sterile," he said.
When I put it to him that the private-sector partner on the project is Paragon Gaming of Las Vegas, and that the plans include a large casino, Podmore said: "I can't confirm that. I'm not denying that. I can certainly confirm Paragon was one of the parties that submitted a proposal."
Paragon Gaming owns the downtown Edgewater Casino at the Plaza of Nations near Yaletown. It has struggled at this location and would presumably be shut down under the B.C. Place plan.
Paragon Gaming is the brainchild of founding partners Diana Bennett and Scott Menke of Las Vegas. She is the daughter of William Bennett, who for many years ran the Circus Circus and Excalibur casinos.
Paragon spokeswoman Naomi Strasser also refused to confirm or deny that the company had landed the B.C. Place development deal: "Paragon did participate in a request-for-proposal, and that's really all I'm allowed to say."
Podmore said the B.C. Place lands will be developed under a long-term lease and will hopefully create a vibrant new area that will link Robson Street to the False Creek waterfront. He said Terry Fox Plaza and adjacent lands owned by Canadian Metropolitan Properties are also being redeveloped, and the lands east of the stadium will be leased and developed under a separate deal still in the works.
Meanwhile, the new roof and other upgrades to B.C. Place — to be completed in 2011 — will transform the entire area, he said.
"It kind of bugs me that people think we're just rebuilding a sports stadium," he said. "When we're done, this will be the premier multi-use facility on the continent."
The renovated stadium will be home to the B.C. Lions football team and the Vancouver Whitecaps Major League Soccer franchise. The 2011 Grey Cup is already pencilled in and Podmore is dreaming even bigger.
"We have tried to make sure the stadium can still accommodate professional baseball," he said.
Is he saying Vancouver can land a Major League Baseball franchise?
"You never know," he answered.
Tourism Minister Kevin Krueger also played the don't-ask, don't-tell game with me about a B.C. Place casino. "I have my hands over my ears," he said, as soon as I mentioned Paragon Gaming. "I'm not confirming and I'm not denying."
Krueger — once the governing Liberals' fiercest opponents of expanded gambling, by the way — said plans for B.C. Place and environs will blow people away. "This will be like the transformation of the Expo 86 lands — possibly bigger," he said.