Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Some musings on Council's rejection of an expanded casino

As listeners to the CKNW Civic Affairs Panel know, I had considerable difficulty chosing one side or the other on the Casino debate. However, in the end, I felt(and it was as much a feeling as a belief) that given that Vancouver had already accepted a significant casino operation in the downtown; the casino/hotel/entertainment complex would complement the city’s tourism infrastructure and had been tied for years to the renovation of BC Place; the property had been ‘zoned’ for this use, and the size, height, bulk was in conformance with the Official Community Plan; and the proposal had the support of the Board of Trade and other similar organizations because it would bring economic activity and life to the area….I found myself being more supportive than opposed.

I must say my gentle support was also spurred on by some of the opposition. As one opponent said on CBC this morning, her opposition began because non-profits were not getting the money that had been promised by the province. Rick Cluff quite rightly said in response, “well isn’t that a provincial matter, rather than a municipal issue?” Yes, she said, but she subsequently had concerns about gambling addictions, the size of the building, etc. etc.

So I am not broken hearted that the project has been rejected. There were many other aspects about it that troubled me, that I have previously set out on on various blogs. However, I think it is worthwhile to speculate on what might happen next, both in terms of the future of this site, and where a major destination casino might land.

With respect to the latter, the Fourth Horeseman wrote on Frances Bula's blog: “stop listening to Michael Geller’s alarmist screed, please.”

I assume this is a reference to the fact that I did on one occasion report on CKNW that I had heard others suggest that a casino might locate on the Squamish lands at the South End of the Burrard Street Bridge. I emphasized that I had no first hand knowledge that the Squamish Nation was even considering this, but added that Casinos often locate on native lands elsewhere.

Ironically, this might be a greater possibility now, because of two recent decisions….one, Council has rejected an expanded casino downtown; and two, the Squamish Nation band members have rejected changes to their land code that would have made it easier and more financially attractive to develop condominiums on their lands.

Personally, if the casino is going to relocate to another site, I think there’s a greater likelihood of a major casino now being developed in Surrey, perhaps on the lands adjacent to King George SkyTrain Station. I say this since a major mixed use project including a casino was contemplated in the past for this site. It could happen….

Now as for the BC Place site, I’m troubled by another statement by the Fourth Horseman on France's blog:

“that David Podmore said, as he has said for the last few weeks, that not expanding the casino will not affect the improvements at BC Place and that taxpayers will “not be stuck with the cost”.

Which is a significant departure from what was first said.”

What I heard David say was that the BC Place roof and other improvements would not be impacted by a rejection of the casino. Well this should be obvious to all, since the works are underway and cannot be stopped.

But I am confused by “taxpayers will not be stuck with the cost”.

The cost of the BC Place improvements will not be paid for by increased beer and hot dog sales. It was hoped that the sale and lease of the adjacent lands would be a major contributor to the cost. While the casino was only contributing a portion of the total cost, the amount was not insignificant.

Council and staff have said emphatically that they do not want to see more condos on this site. Instead, they prefer commercial activities that will create jobs. I agree with this position. But I am a bit stumped when it comes to what might be alternative uses.

Yesterday I was called by CTV who asked me about the future of this property. Might we see a major shopping centre? No, I said…pointing to the nearby International Village as an example of a failed major retail undertaking. What about hotels? Well, new hotels in Vancouver are not generally viable without some form of ‘subsidy’. Condominiums are the best way to subsidize a hotel, but we don’t want condos here.

An expanded casino might have subsidized two hotels, but I doubt whether we’ll see two hotels without the expanded casino. I do think hotel may be a viable use in the future, noting there is a hotel next to Rogers Stadium in Toronto. But it is a bit of a longshot, without some supporting uses.

So, unless there are sufficient development revenues, one way or another, taxpayers will be ‘stuck’ with the cost of the BC Place improvements….they may not be just Vancouver city taxpayers, but they will be taxpayers…that’s where the province and Pavco get their money!

A final observation. Earlier this year on CKNW, Frances Bula, Jim Green and I generally concluded that the casino expansion was a ‘done deal’. On two occasions we discussed it, an neither conversation generated any phone calls…so the topic was dropped.

A week later, I got a message from Pete McMartin asking me if I had heard anything about opposition to the casino. I told him that I was aware that Sean Bickerton and his False Creek neighbours had been opposed to the casino for some time, and were trying to organize something, but he noted this was ‘old news’.

Howevever, I am told that Bickerton brought on Judy Rudin who brought on Peter Ladner and Bing Thom. Sandy Garassimo was also actively drumming up opposition and soon many, many others started to sign on and the opposition gained momentum. Like the old Arlo Guthrie song, it morphed into a movement, and once it got going, it couldn’t be stopped. As I watched this happening, I was reminded of a book I read during the last municipal election….Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everyone: The Power of Organizing without an Organization.

It’s all about how social media are changing the way society operates. And the rejection of this casino is a perfect example. Now I can’t wait to see what will be the next big issue or cause to be driven by social media.

POSTSCRIPT: After writing these comments, I listened to the Mayor speaking to Simi Sara on CKNW's Bill Good Show, and listening carefully to his words, I think the province will be back with a revised, smaller casino proposal for the BC Place lands. That's right. It may not go to Surrey, or Squamish Lands. It's not so much what he said, but what he didn't say.

So here's my prediction. Having won accolades for opposing casino expansion, the Mayor and Council WILL ultimately approve a relocation of the Edgewater Casino to the BC Place site. Will it be expanded? Well maybe, just a little bit, but not enough to cause another furor. But it will be designed so that it can be expanded at some time in the future, when the dust has settled. Let's see if I am right.


Anonymous said...

I'm not a gambler, so didn't have an informed opinion either way (and it didn't mess up PavCo too much), but respect a Council's land use decision. When they stick to land use. What happened here was bizarre political opportunism. The moratorium component dictates to a senior government ministry to radically alter its practices. This got picked up as the du jour bark from Adrian Dix & Shane Simpson as an attempted attack on the government.

Vision may well rue the day they placed demand conditions; it is far easier for senior governments to do the same downwards, particularly with major funding. The City of Victoria had a long history of attacking the Legislature and the flow simply dried up. On some items, they've given up asking.

There are many City of Van projects and programs that could be subject to housecleaning prior to snr govt involvements (think DTES, Kerr/DERA, etc.).

Getting back to gaming, more bizarre is the thin principles Vision coincidently came up with, as soon as opposing voices rose. If they were genuinely concerned, they might have banished lottery and scratch/win gambling across the City. Many retail outlets do little but dish out tickets all day, all night. Those dollar figures must be astounding; hundreds of millions. But of course, the outrage would be devasting to Vision.

So Vision is no to gambling, but go to Mixed-Martial arts bloodbaths, and many gyms across the City that exclusively promote and train for such violence? We're closer to becoming a mecca for that than a Macau for this.

Even more confusing is the Mayor's 'branding' criteria, that a casino is not green, R&D, blah, blah. Cities thrive through decades because of diverse uses and industries. His 'vision' of a pure, wired, eco-concentrated city reminds me of the 80s when every little municipality believed that they could become a global High-Tech centre, a Silcon-Valley north.

G. deAuxerre said...

re: social media effect

What I haven't heard is how the outcome is a success for the arts groups who led the attack? They appear to be the dog that caught the car.

Who knows, maybe the protest ~was~ a form of art, and having achieved that - and celebrated - they now find themselves in the same place they were previously. No takers.

Anonymous said...

I find it amazing the people who are so arrogant that they feel the need to blog their every thought. You supported the casino because you are nothing more than another developer looking to line his pockets. Obviously you succeeded at this in order to be able to afford a world-wide tour. Go do something useful without notifying the media.

Michael Geller said...

Well, I really like the first two comments posted above, and I'll leave it to others to comment on the validity of the third! But thanks for reading, and taking the time to write.

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From this blog Some musings on Council's rejection of an expanded casino. As one opponent said on CBC this morning, her opposition began because non-profits were not getting the money that had been promised by the province.

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