The province's tourism minister has said T. Richard Turner, the Insurance Corp. of British Columbia's chair, told him the lack of a retractable roof for BC Place could be a "deal breaker" for Paragon Gaming Inc., which has signed a 70-year lease agreement with PavCo to develop a new entertainment complex near the stadium. Yesterday morning, Public Eye exclusively revealed Mr. Turner's longstanding business relationship with Paragon Gaming, which also owns Vancouver's Edgewater Casino. A spokesperson for the Las Vegas-based firm told us Mr. Turner "was not involved" in Paragon's response to PavCo's request for proposals to develop the lands west of BC Place. And, during estimates debate, Tourism, Culture and the Arts Minister Kevin Krueger reiterated the ICBC chair "did not participate in the negotiations at all and had no influence in the content of the lease whatsoever." But, after the Crown corporation selected Paragon, Mr. Krueger - who has said he also was not personally involved in that decision - received a telephone call from Mr. Turner sometime "before winter."
Under questioning from New Democrat tourism critic Spencer Herbert, the minister explained Mr. Turner told him during the call, "BC Place wouldn't be as attractive a site without a retractable roof. (Paragon Gaming) might not be interested, and if they were, it would not be for the kind of financial considerations that they had put on the table."
That retractable roof was first announced in May 2008. But, on October 23, 2009, the government revealed its cost would be $485 million, justifying that expenditure by stating the roof would enable PavCo to "attract a broader range of sporting and entertainment event," provide "a revitalized home to the BC Lions and allow for the establishment of the first season of the Vancouver Whitecaps as a Major League Soccer franchise in 2011."
"The critic knew - a lot of people did - that the bids to build the retractable roof had exceeded the estimate and exceeded it fairly substantially," Mr. Krueger continued. "People knew without being told that we would be wrestling with that question, and we obviously were. Mr. Turner knew that..."
"He felt that it would be beneficial to all concerned if I knew that that could be a deal breaker and certainly wouldn't enable the same contract that they had in mind when they believed that there'd be a retractable roof on the stadium. That was the extent of it."
During estimates debate, Minister Krueger also stated Paragon was one of two companies that responded to PavCo's request for proposals.
"By June 2009 it was obvious that Paragon's was the most attractive proposal. But then a lot of negotiations ensued between PavCo and Paragon, ultimately resulting only recently in a contract," he said. "By the fall it looked pretty clear to people that we'd like to make a deal with them, that a deal could be made. But it was conditional upon a retractable roof."
Public Eye placed requests for comment to Paragon Gaming and Mr. Turner's office last night. We have not yet received a response.