The provincial Liberals are rejecting assertions that a massive renovation of BC Place cost more than five times an original estimate, saying a $100-million figure cited in recent reports was not an official budget and didn’t include the cost of a new, retractable roof.
“The $100-million figure quoted in a letter from PavCo’s chair to the City Manager in January 2008 was never intended to be a budget,” an employee with the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas said Tuesday in an e-mail. “At the time the letter was written, PavCo was considering a more minor pillow roof replacement. The project markedly changed in scope.”
New Democratic Party MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert this week called for the Auditor-General to conduct a “value-for-money” audit of the upgrade, citing a 2008 letter from B.C. Pavilion Corporation to Vancouver city manager Judy Rogers that included a figure of $100-million for rehabilitation of the stadium.
Energy Minister Rich Coleman, who oversees PavCo, was not available for an interview.
But in the same e-mailed response, the employee said the stadium is expected to generate about $100-million in economic activity a year, up from $58-million a year before the new roof was built. Also, building a new stadium would have cost more than $1-billion – arguments the government has made to back its case for a renovation that cost more than $500-million.
The government has yet to produce a business case that justifies the investment, Mr. Chandra Herbert said on Wednesday.
“Every time I have asked about the cost – including when it went from $365-million up to $563-million – each time the Liberals have claimed, ‘no, that was never the original budget – the only real budget was the $563-million budget.’ “But when you look at the record, the Treasury Board signed off on $365-million. Before that, the chair of PavCo was telling the city it was $100-million. … obviously, people sometimes like to change history to make themselves look better, but all I can go by is what the government itself put out – which was originally, they said it would cost $100-million.”
The provincial Treasury Board approved a $365-million budget in 2008. A subsequent announcement, in October 2009, put the project at $563-million.
“This included a fully retractable roof, not just a replacement of the old, pillow roof,” the ministry said in its e-mail. “Essentially, we planned for the equivalent of a brand new stadium.”
Part of the costs were to be offset through leasing a site next to the stadium for Paragon Gaming’s expanded Edgewater Casino, which now operates at the Plaza of Nations.
But the city in 2011 ruled out an expanded casino although it gave the casino a green light to move to the site next to BC Place with its current capacity of 600 slot machines. Plans had called for an entertainment complex including a 1,500 slot-machine casino, hotels and restaurants..
Paragon has extended its lease on its existing site into 2015 and is talking to PavCo, spokeswoman Tamara Hicks said on Wednesday. “We are still in discussions with PavCo and still looking at the property adjacent to BC Place.”
Paragon has not ruled out other sites in the Lower Mainland, Ms. Hicks said.