Hard Rock opens with Hedley, 54-40

Hard Rock Casino Vancouver opens on Dec. 20 at 5 p.m. - JANIS WARREN/THE TRI-CITY NEWS
Hard Rock Casino Vancouver opens on Dec. 20 at 5 p.m.

Canada's first Hard Rock Casino will open its doors tonight in Coquitlam.

And the rebranded Boulevard Casino — which underwent a $15-million renovation — will likely be the city's biggest tourism draw, attracting gamblers and popular music fans.

Besides the 950 slots plus card tables currently available to gamblers on the 80,000 sq. ft. gaming floor off United Boulevard, visitors can get up close with rock ’n’ roll and country music memorabilia, much of it signed by the stars.

More than 150 pieces are on show, including walls of guitars spanning six decades and a variety of musical genres, from the 1960s (the guitar Roy Orbison used on "Only the Lonely") to 2012 (an acoustic that young star Taylor Swift played during her Grammy performance of "Mean").

There's also autographed clothing, encased in glass, from Seattle legends Jimi Hendrix (a green and pink blazer) and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder (a wet suit) as well as the suit worn by Peter Gabriel in his "Shock the Monkey" video. Racy garments from Mariah Carey, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Madonna are also on display.

But during an exclusive tour of the updated facility on Wednesday, officials had yet to unveil some of their most prized possessions, such as a 1960s rickshaw-type vehicle owned by Elvis, Woodstock wares and a special section dedicated to Red Robinson.


Chuck Keeling, executive director of stakeholder relations for the Great Canadian Gaming Corp., which owns Hard Rock Casino Vancouver under a licence from Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, said the tribute to Robinson was placed prominently on the property to recognize the work of the legendary Vancouver DJ.

This fall, Robinson's name was taken off the show theatre as Boulevard Casino rebranded to Hard Rock — a controversial decision that prompted an online petition and drew the ire of crooner Michael Bublé, who opened Boulevard Casino in 2002 and had Robinson emcee his wedding.

Robinson, who is also no longer the casino's ambassador nor has a dedicated front row seat to Hard Rock Casino Vancouver shows, understands the business move and is "graciously working with the company," Keeling said.

Meanwhile, Hard Rock's memorabilia — curated by creative consultant Warwick Stone (who on Wednesday was installing the Hendrix wall) — will be "refreshed" every two years or so from the company's massive collection.

Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is owned by an affiliate of Brookfield Property Partners. With the Coquitlam venue, it now has nine properties west of the Mississippi — including spots in Texas, California and Australia — with its flagship in Las Vegas.

Keeling said Great Canadian decided to latch on the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino licence as Coquitlam already had a gaming location and was in need of a boost, especially after the Port Mann and Highway 1 construction that saw many United Boulevard businesses suffer. The rebranding of the gaming property will bring in a much younger base, he said, "but we will be offering just as much for the young as the young-at-heart. We're expanding our existing demographic."

Live entertainment, for example, won't just cater to those in their 20s. There will also be jazz and country acts, and emerging bands will be given the chance to apply online to perform as well.

Keeling said he's encouraged that the city has set a new tourism program, which council is funding in part from the revenues it receives as a host casino municipality. "We think we can play a very big part in that initiative," he said.


Hard Rock Casino Vancouver will put Coquitlam on the map, he said. The New Year's Eve concert with Our Lady Peace will be broadcasted in part across Canada.

And Keeling said with the highway and bridge construction soon to be completed and with the Evergreen Line now being built to Coquitlam, he's confident Hard Rock Casino Vancouver will succeed despite casino and entertainment competition throughout the region.

"We're not reliant on a single market," he said, "because we're going to be pulling in people regionally and beyond."

Keeling said a lot of time has spent on getting the 700-plus staff ready for Hard Rock with the aim of improving customer service. "It's very much a culture change for them," he said.

Great Canadian has no immediate plans to build an adjoining hotel, although it has already gone through city approvals; rather, the company is waiting to see how the rebranding will play out before it digs in deeper, Keeling said.

As for its food selection, there will be seven spots to eat, including a steak house called Stake. But the famous Hard Rock Cafe, the chain of theme restaurants known around the world, won't be attached to the Coquitlam venue as it's a separate entity, Keeling said.


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