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House won't go bust over dead casino plan: B.C. Premier

Blackjack at the River Rock Casino in Richmond, B.C. June 11, 2009.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Premier Christy Clark says she is concerned about the loss of rent and gaming revenue due to Vancouver council's decision to kill a massive planned casino expansion beside BC Place, but the government is betting that some new tenant will make up the loss eventually.

"If Paragon isn't the tenant, there will be another tenant," Ms. Clark said Wednesday, referring to the company that had been pitching the casino. "That is just about the best piece of property left in downtown Vancouver, so it will have a tenant. That tenant will pay a good substantial rent."

Earlier this week, council ended months of debate on the issue by voting down the plan for the casino, which would have sat alongside the revamped BC Place stadium, which is receiving a $563-million renovation that includes a retractable roof.

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The casino's lease payments were supposed to help pay for the roof, though Ms. Clark noted that the government has covered off the basic cost of the project.

Casino company Paragon, the proponent for the project, was supposed to pay $6-million a year for 70 years to lease the land. The casino, an upgraded facility replacing another complex in the downtown core, was to have provided about $200-million a year to the province, compared to $60-million the province now receives.

Former premier Gordon Campbell announced the project in 2010. Although there was little public commentary then, a tide of opposition began to build in recent months, leading to packed meetings before city council during which the project was slammed.

The B.C. New Democrats said the situation represents a blow to the province's finances that the Liberals need to explain. "It's disingenuous for the government to tell us there's no cost here. There's a real cost here," said Shane Simpson, critic for gaming.

Mr. Simpson said the opposition accepts the roof as a done deal, but has lingering questions about lost revenue for the casino.

But Ms. Clark called for calm. "It's obviously something we need to be concerned about, but I don't think it's something we need to be panicking about. That tenant is going to be there. They are going to be paying rent."

But she said the B.C. Pavilion Corp., which is in charge of the project, is going to have to sort things out. "They're going to have to find a Plan B, but I know they're working on that now."

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Jobs Minister Pat Bell said, during an earlier briefing, that the casino had never actually been approved and so the revenues were never on the books.

Ms. Clark said the roof was a reasonable project in order to maintain BC Place, a 28-year-old facility she dubbed a "billion-dollar asset" that needed an overhaul to continue to generate revenues through football games and other programming.

"It's not the fast ferries," she said, in a jab at the NDP over controversial ferries built by the former NDP government.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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