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City won’t interfere with casino application

Critics call Paragon plans worrisome
Sandy Garossino
Sandy Garossino, co-founder of Vancouver Not Vegas! says the permit process involving a proposed $535-million entertainment complex adjacent to B.C. Place lacks transparency. photo Dan Toulgoet

The ruling Vision Vancouver council will not interfere with a Las Vegas-based casino company’s desire to build a $535-million entertainment complex adjacent to B.C. Place Stadium, despite a request from an anti-casino coalition.

Vision Coun. Kerry Jang said council will not delay Paragon Holdings from having its application heard Dec.16 by the city’s development permit board. Paragon wants to move its Edgewater Casino operation at the Plaza of Nations and build a new gambling facility  at 39 Smithe St.

The Vancouver Not Vegas! coalition called Tuesday for council to delay Paragon’s application until a “comprehensive public review and implementation of a harm reduction strategy” is completed.  

“We’re not interfering,” Jang told the Courier Wednesday. “Everything that [the coalition] asked for has been done — two years ago — and is currently being done now.”

Jang said council made it clear in April 2011, when it voted unanimously to reject Paragon’s initial proposal for more slots and gaming tables, that it didn’t support an expansion of gambling.

At the same meeting, council agreed to a moratorium on applications to expand gambling until the provincial government and the B.C. Lottery Corporation undertakes a “comprehensive public consultation” on expanded gambling in Vancouver.

Council also recently ordered city staff to conduct a public health review of all Vancouver gambling facilities, including Edgewater, Hastings Racecourse and bingo halls. The review is the result of a motion Jang brought before council in light of the provincial health officer’s report on problem gambling that called for government to lessen the harm caused by gambling.

Sandy Garossino, co-founder of Vancouver Not Vegas!, said the public needs more information about Paragon’s development application before it goes to the permit board. Garossino said the increased floor space in the plans and the opportunity for a future council to expand the number of slots and tables in a new facility is worrisome.

“This application being brought in December in the rush of Christmas when members of the public have had no real notice this is taking place — no opportunity to speak to it, no transparency about what is going on and what is expected for the city — offends our sense of fair play,” Garossino said at a press conference held Tuesday in Strathcona.

The coalition includes former B.C. Supreme Court justice Ian Pitfield, architect Bing Thom, artist Brian Jungen, former NPA city councillor Peter Ladner, writer George Bowering and several university professors and research scientists, including Gerald Thomas, the lead author of provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall’s report on problem gambling.

Paragon’s new application goes before the development permit board Dec. 16 because of council’s decision in April 2011. Though council rejected Paragon’s plan to double the number of its gaming tables from 75 to 150 and almost triple its 600 slots to 1,500, council gave Paragon the option to move to the Smithe Street site and build a new casino — as long as it kept the current complement of tables and slots.

Paragon eventually followed through with that option and is proceeding with its next step to build a 700,000 sq. foot complex that features a casino spread over two floors, two hotels, a gym, a spa and restaurants.

Paragon has described the $535-million complex as a “world-class urban resort” that will also feature a conference centre, retail space and five levels of underground parking able to accommodate 1,200 vehicles.

The property belongs to B.C. Pavilion Corporation, or PavCo, which signed a lease agreement with Paragon that includes a 70-year term at $3 million per year. PavCo is a Crown corporation.