Let’s hope I’m wrong and the False Creek casino debate is straightforward

Let’s hope I’m wrong in my forecast that public debate about a new, expanded casino at BC Place Stadium will be “nasty.”

The BC Place redevelopment plan is much more than a new roof and a casino, as project manager David Podmore is keen to point out. A massive commercial, entertainment and office complex — including a casino — will reanimate the large parking lot between the Cambie Bridge and BC Place Stadium.

And Councillors Raymond Louie and Ellen Woodsworth, no strangers to gaming approvals, say public attitudes to gambling have changed. Edgewater Casino, the existing Plaza of Nations facility, has operated for many years without problems. (Woodsworth was implacably opposed to slot machines and casino gaming during her first term as a COPE councillor from 2002-2005.)

But gaming has never been non-controversial in Vancouver, although the city arguably has a much smaller gaming sector — a small casino, Hastings Park Racetrack and a struggling bingo hall — than neighbours like Richmond and Burnaby, each a host to one of the province’s largest casinos.

And the debate in Northeast False Creek is as much about delivering amenities, especially parks, to current and future residents, as it is about the actual uses of the new density.

It’s the amenities that will be difficult to secure. On the eve of the last election,  the NPA council voted to deem the retractable roof a suitable substitute for all community amenity charges and development cost levies that would otherwise be payable. That means no requirement for affordable housing, parks, daycare centres, community centres or other local improvements. (The Vision councillors voted against this approach.)

All the more reason, in my view, to move forward a review of the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts to see if the entire area could be redesigned to meet future needs, not to house the heart of a freeway system that was never built.