With about 90 days to go before its scheduled opening, Paragon Development’s $640 million Parq Vancouver urban-resort development at B.C. Place remains more of a construction site than completed project.
The dark wood trim, marble flooring and ornately woven carpets that are in place remain mostly covered with protective layers of cardboard and thin sheets of veneer as a crew of about 800 construction workers continue installing finishing touches.
At this point there is a lot at stake: The project’s hotel partner, Mariott International Hotels, has already started booking conference business for Parq’s hotels and conference centre, but Paragon CEO Scott Menke seemed unfazed during a recent tour.
“It’s amazing the changes that will happen from my morning (site) tour to the evening tour,” Menke remarked as he led a small group past construction fencing and into the cavernous space behind a monolith of copper-coloured glass.
Regardless of any past controversies related to the relocation of its Edgewater Casino or delays that extended its opening from the fall of 2016 to this fall, the signature project is on the cusp of completion.
In lieu of the expanded destination casino that Paragon first proposed, Paragon is delivering the “urban resort” — along with hotelier Mariott and food-and-beverage-service developer Blau & Associates — that will lean on its entertainment offerings as much as the casino.
Parq, in total, contains two Mariott-branded hotels: A JW Marriott with 329 rooms and suites plus a uniquely designed Marriott Autograph collection hotel under the name Douglas with 188 rooms and suites.
Between the two hotels are a 63,000-square-foot conference centre, boasting the biggest ballroom in Western Canada, 72,000 square feet of casino space spread out over two floors in a relocation of the 600 slot machines and 75 game tables now at the Edgewater Casino.
The complex will boast a 30,000-square-foot rooftop garden along with a fourth-floor terrace cut out of the Douglas hotel side, which give it spaces to “bring the outside in,” Menke said.
And Paragon has ambitious targets for the property that depend on attracting some 10,000 to 12,000 visitors per day between hotel guests, conference attendees and casino and restaurant patrons, according to Menke.
“I’m very confident in Parq Vancouver,” Menke said. “We have gotten to know the city, the industry and our competitors in the city over the past 10 years, and I think key indicators of our business plan have started to be proven out.”
By that, Menke means that the bookings that Marriott has made — group meetings and conferences — for the fall and into 2018 have exceeded their expectations.
“We’ve been selling for years,” said Marion Harper Treskin, Mariott’s general manager for both hotels.
“We probably have a half-dozen huge incentive trips and financial groups (booked) that have never come to Canada, never to Vancouver before because it didn’t have that luxury (hotel) component with big meeting space,” Harper Treskin said.
And even with room price points that start at $349 per night in the off-season ($800-$900 in season, with suites ranging from $7,000 to $10,000 per night), Parq will be a welcome addition to the city for Vancouver Tourism officials.
“Another 500 rooms, absolutely our city can use it,” said Dave Gazley, vice-president of meeting and convention sales for Tourism Vancouver.
The city has seen relatively little new-hotel development since the 2010 Olympics, Gazely said, while the city has seen record visitor numbers in each of the past three years.
On top of that, Vancouver faces the loss of a couple of big hotels (the Empire Landmark on Robson Street to redevelopment, the Coast Plaza on Comox Street to conversion), albeit on a lower tier compared with the Marriotts.
“For us, (Parq) adds another strong, internationally recognized high-end brand to downtown in an interesting location,” Gazley said.
“Connectivity” is a word that often runs through the conversation during the tour, referring to its location, wedged against the south end of B.C. Place Stadium and proximity to Rogers Arena, which Menke is confident will drive business related to games and events as the only full-service hotel adjacent to the facilities.
“Everything we’re doing here is to connect with B.C. Place and Rogers Arena,” Menke said. “The connections, and for us to (complement) and elevate the experience of this entertainment district is just really coming to life.”
Also in the theme of having less glitz and more local style, the development is foregoing the big dance club with more laid-back lounge space on the sixth floor of the Douglas hotel, said Elizabeth Blau, CEO of Blau & Associates.
“We realize that Vancouver is different from Las Vegas,” Blau said, referring to the headquarters city of her and her husband’s company. “So we didn’t feel the need to have a big nightclub.”
Each hotel and the casino will have its own entrance, with all three linked by a central gallery, which Menke characterized as an important element of the design.
“We don’t make you go across the casino to stay here,” Menke said. “You never have to enter the casino unless you opt in.”
Critics of the project still have lingering concerns related to the renewal of Paragon’s licence for Edgewater while the company was having financial difficulties with developments in Alberta and the revision of its lease for the B.C. Place property from the B.C. Pavilion Corporation (PavCo).
The City of Vancouver has been pleased with the efforts Parq’s developers have made to source supplies locally and provide employment opportunities in the Downtown Eastside, said Coun. Geoff Meggs.
“I understand they make serious contributions and have worked hard on elements where council has asked them to produce,” Meggs said, though he is concerned about all employees now at Edgewater getting fair opportunities to remain at Parq.
The company maintains all existing employees will be able to remain in unionized positions at Parq, if they choose.
However, NDP MLA David Eby, who is now potentially part of the NDP government-in-waiting, said he would still like to see a review of the project by the province’s gaming policy and enforcement branch.
“Personally, I wish them every success,” Eby said. “But my biggest concern is whether or not British Columbians have been protected here.”