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Rendering of BC Place and the proposed entertainment complex to be built on PavCo-owned land adjacent to BC Place. (Globe files/Globe files)
Rendering of BC Place and the proposed entertainment complex to be built on PavCo-owned land adjacent to BC Place. (Globe files/Globe files)

Casino complex to include Marriott Hotels Add to ...

Paragon Gaming has landed a big-name partner for the hotel portion of its proposed $500-million casino complex in downtown Vancouver.

But one of two luxury Marriott hotels envisioned as part of the project would likely be delayed if city council okays an amended casino proposal that features an initial 1,200 slot machines instead of 1,500.

An amendment filed near the end of a lengthy public hearing process says the reduced number of slot machines could affect financing and timing of the hotels.

"At this [lower]slot machine number, the second hotel development may need to be phased to ensure the economics of the project remain viable," says the amendment, which came near the end of a public hearing at city hall on Sunday.

Las Vegas-based Paragon and B.C. Pavilion Corp., which owns BC Place and the neighbouring site where Paragon wants to build its complex, put forward the tweaked proposal after hearing from dozens of speakers in multiple sessions who were concerned about the size and potential negative consequences of an expanded casino, including increased problem gambling.

Under the revised proposal, Paragon would begin with 1,200 slot machines and ramp up to 1,500 after two years, if council approved.

The reduced number of slot machines shows that Paragon and PavCo are willing to adapt to address residents' concerns, Paragon president Scott Menke said on Monday.

"Whenever you go into five days' worth of meetings with city staff and council and all the people out there, what we were trying to do as good corporate partners is show our flexibility and reinforce some of the questions that came up during all those hundreds of speakers," he said.

Opponents panned the concept.

"If they really listened to concerns, they would put aside plans for any expansion at all," Vancouver Not Vegas Coalition spokeswoman Sandy Garossino said on Monday, adding that the proposal came at the end of a lengthy hearing process and seemed like a "Hail Mary pass."

"Apart from people who had a direct financial interest in the project, the public was almost unanimously opposed to this application," Ms. Garossino said.

The volunteer-driven Vancouver Not Vegas group has marshalled opposition to the casino from groups and individuals ranging from arts groups to urban planners, public health officials and retired lawmakers. Paragon and PavCo are backed by their own supporters, including employees from Paragon's existing Edgewater casino in Vancouver and the Vancouver Board of Trade.

The day after the public hearings wrapped up, Paragon announced its agreement with Marriott, emphasizing Marriott's international brand. In the heated debate over the casino, opponents have questioned whether privately held Paragon has the resources and experience to develop a destination casino. Currently, its biggest operation is the River Cree casino in Alberta.

"There was some question as to not only the brands but the sizing of the hotels and the power that we were going to bring to the marketplace," Mr. Menke said. "Marriott is the No. 1 hotel brand in the world, they reach into the Asia Pacific - the brands they are allowing us to work with … we're very excited about continuing to let the story unfold."

Under Paragon's deal with Marriott, the hotel company would build two hotels in Vancouver: one under the JW Marriott brand and the other in the Autograph Collection, described as a group of "independent and luxury tier properties."

Costs and other details about the hotels were not disclosed.

Paragon has said it would put $150-million of its own money into the project and borrow the rest.

Vancouver council is expected to vote on the casino proposal on April 19.

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