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Slot machines at the River Rock Casino in Richmond, B.C. June 11, 2009. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Slot machines at the River Rock Casino in Richmond, B.C. June 11, 2009. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

BC Place renovation going ahead regardless of proposed casino's fate Add to ...

Renovations at BC Place will go ahead at full speed and without any last-minute budget cutting, no matter what happens to a proposed casino and entertainment complex that was supposed to help pay for it, says the head of B.C. Pavilion Corp.

Contrary to reports that the $563-million renovation of the stadium will be imperilled if the Paragon Gaming casino project - triple the size of the current casino now in the neighbourhood - doesn't go ahead, CEO Warren Buckley said, "We'll be fine. We are fully committed on all the materials so there would be no scaling back."

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Many people believe that the casino development was the main financial source for the BC Place renovations, which entail replacing the old inflatable roof with a new retractable one, as well as refurbishing much of the building.

But, Mr. Buckley said, the $6-million a year that Paragon has offered to pay for a land lease was intended to cover only about $75-million of the total cost. As well, the lease payments wouldn't even have started until 2013.

The reality is that much of the stadium's renovation costs are coming from general tax dollars. Of the total, he said, $277-million was a straight capital grant from the province. Another $40-million also came from the province as compensation for maintenance that had been deferred many years on the stadium.

Mr. Buckley said the $150-million construction loan from the province is the only debt obligation the casino was going to help pay. PavCo counted on casino lease payments for about half of that. The other half of the loan payments, as well as the remaining $100-million needed, would come from various past and future sources of money PavCo has elsewhere.

It will use cash on hand, money left over from the convention-centre expansion, and money from the sale of Bridge Studios, Mr. Buckley said. As well, it expects to generate new money from the enhanced stadium, including money from more days of rentals, sponsorship rights, and naming rights.

(Mr. Buckley squashed rumours that the stadium might be named Budweiser. The rumours have been circulating since the beer company, whose crown-like logo looks like the new BC Place roof to some, announced a sponsorship deal with the B.C. Lions. "It will not be called Budweiser Stadium," he said.)

Mr. Buckley acknowledged PavCo officials are flummoxed for the moment about what might replace the casino and entertainment project if council turns it down.

"We started meeting with Paragon two years ago and there's been no consideration of the alternatives," he said. The city has insisted that it wants to see something in that BC Place area that is job space, not just more condos, which makes it more difficult for PavCo to find a suitable use. Concord Pacific was the only other bidder besides Paragon when PavCo asked for bids on their land around the stadium two years ago.

However, he said, since PavCo isn't in a financial crunch, it won't have to grab at just anything.

"If nothing went forward on that site today, we're still generating $2.5-million just from parking revenues. We're not in a position where we have to rush into anything."

The larger financial problem if the casino is turned down will rest with the province, which was hoping to double or triple the $120-million a year it has been getting from the current Edgewater casino.

The casino issue is continuing to generate record attention at city hall. More than 200 people have now signed up to speak at public hearings. The third night of hearings Monday brought out what has become the typical mix - groups of casino workers begging for their well-paid jobs to be saved and opponents, ranging from former politicians and planners to neighbourhood groups, saying an expanded casino will result in more crime and gambling addiction, as well as being at odds with Vancouver's image and its effort to create a thriving, pedestrian-friendly downtown.

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