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Design of casino project needs work, Vancouver says

A view of downtown Vancouver showing False Creek, GM Place and BC Place November 4, 2009 in Vancouver, Canada.

Jeff Vinnick/Jeff Vinnick/ Getty Images

The Las Vegas company planning to build a casino in downtown Vancouver will not be allowed to build the kind of bulky black box it has displayed so far, according to city officials.

"This is our chance for a green, urban casino," said city planning director Brent Toderian.

"I've seen the renderings so far and they need a lot of work."

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Mr. Toderian and his colleagues insist that Paragon Gaming will need to comply with height restrictions on towers - the area is regulated by the city's infamous rules meant to protect view corridors - and submit a good design if the project is to move ahead by early next year.

"I know they're concerned about having an expedited process, and they've got some pretty interesting ideas on how fast we could move. But a lot depends on the quality of their design," said David McLellan, the city's general manager of community services.

"They would have to do their homework if they want to move that fast."

PavCo, the government agency that owns the land and made the deal with Paragon, has said that shovels will be in the ground by early next year. PavCo will be using profits from the development deal to pay the $460-million repair bill for the roof of neighbouring BC Place.

Starting construction by early next year will mean going through an exceptionally quick process with the city.

It normally takes a minimum of a year, and sometimes two, for a development company to go from the formal application stage (which hasn't even started yet with PavCo and Paragon) through a public hearing and rezoning process.

And there are more issues at play in the Paragon development than in a typical site. The city must consider not just the mammoth complex with two hotels and five restaurants, but also Paragon's proposal to triple the amount of casino space for the licence it holds at the small Edgewater Casino nearby.

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"We are very motivated to move the application along, but that doesn't mean we drop the important issues," Mr. Toderian said.

He said the city's recent convention-centre addition, which housed broadcast media during the Olympics, is an example of how a building that is normally a black box in a city became attractive and inviting by being turned inside out.

Unlike most convention centres, Vancouver's has meeting rooms buried in the centre of the building, while hallways and open areas were put around them with floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing people to look out.

"Now it provides some of the best views in the city," Mr. Toderian said, adding that the city will be looking for a similar result from the casino's architects.

PavCo chair David Podmore said the agency and Paragon will both be working with the city to achieve those goals.

He acknowledged that the visuals accompanying the casino announcement last week were not representative.

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"I don't accept that what's been presented as the visual images is the final product," he said.

"I think we all want it to be as high a quality design as possible."

Mr. Podmore did concede, however, that PavCo is anxious for the development to move forward as quickly as possible.

The licence for the Edgewater Casino expires in mid-2013, and any downtime between then and when the new casino opens will represent money lost.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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