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Liberal insider part of B.C. Place casino group

BOB MACKIN, 24 HOURS

VICTORIA - Only two bidders responded when the British Columbia government put land west of B.C. Place Stadium up for lease and the successful company is part-owned by a Liberal party insider.

Publiceyeonline.com reported Wednesday that T. Richard Turner is a director of Paragon B.C., the division of Las Vegas-based Paragon Gaming which operates Edgewater Casino at the Plaza of Nations in downtown Vancouver. Paragon announced March 26 that it would build a $450 million casino and hotel complex in a parking lot west of the stadium and pay a Crown corporation $6 million a year for 70 years. The lease revenue, which will be adjusted for inflation after 10 years, is supposed to help pay for the stadium's $458 million retractable roof.

Turner, a frequent donor to the B.C. Liberals, was appointed chairman of the Insurance Corporation of B.C. in 2003. He was chairman of the B.C. Lottery Corporation from 2001 to 2005 and became a Paragon director in 2006, the same year the company rescued Edgewater from bankruptcy. Turner is also a provincially appointed director of VANOC.

Tourism minister Kevin Krueger told a budget hearing on Wednesday that Turner phoned him "one day" to discuss the Paragon bid.

Krueger said Turner "called me to make sure that I knew that the retractable roof was if not a deal-killer, at least Paragon wouldn't be able to make the same proposal that it had made to (B.C. Pavilion Corporation), and that was our only conversation."

Krueger said he had no involvement with the request for proposals or the selection of Paragon and never met with the company. Krueger refused to reveal the unsuccessful bidder.

B.C. Pavilion Corporation CEO Warren Buckley was not at the hearing Wednesday because of a back injury, but Krueger said he sent a message claiming that Turner "did not participate in the negotiations at all and had no influence in the content of the lease whatsoever."

B.C. Place opened in 1983 for $126 million and hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in February. It closes after the Vancouver International Auto Show on Sunday so that the air-supported fabric roof can be deflated May 3. It is scheduled to reopen in July 2011 with a retractable roof and will host the 2011 Grey Cup.

bob.mackin@sunmedia.ca