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Casino hotel in the works

Coquitlam residents can get their first look later this month at plans for a hotel next to the Boulevard Casino. Great Canadian Gaming Corp.

Coquitlam residents can get their first look later this month at plans for a hotel next to the Boulevard Casino.

Great Canadian Gaming Corp., which owns the United Boulevard gaming venue, is set to apply to the city this fall to build a tower just west of the Red Robinson Show Theatre. If approved, the highrise would include hotel suites, meeting and conference rooms, a lounge, spa, pool and fitness facilities.

Howard Blank, Great Canadian's vice-president of communications, entertainment and responsible gaming, told The Tri-City News yesterday the proposal is expected to go before the city's land use committee in the fall.

The Aug. 24 open house, from 3 to 8 p.m. at the Red Robinson, will give residents a chance to offer input before the formal plans are submitted for council's consideration.

"Everything that people say - positively or negatively or neutrally - is given to the city for review," Blank said.

Great Canadian didn't provide drawings prior to the open house and Blank said he was unsure how tall the tower would be or how many hotel suites it would accommodate; but in previous renderings done for the company by Chris Dikeakos - the same architect behind the controversial 19-storey Beedie tower slated for Austin Heights - shows 21 storeys with 194 units and a total of 220,000 sq. ft.

Blank also did not comment on the number of jobs that would be created at the hotel or how much more it would add to the tax base. According to the city's 2010 annual report, Boulevard Casino was the third biggest corporate taxpayer in Coquitlam, paying $1.5 million last year. As well as municipal taxes, GCGC hands over 10% of its net profits to cities that host its casinos. Since the Boulevard Casino opened, Coquitlam has collected more than $75 million through the Ministry of Solicitor General; the city puts 12.5% into a fund for local non-profit groups and the remainder is spent on major capital works.

Blank said GCGC is launching the project now because "we think this is the right time. Our company is in the right position to be able to move forward on this."

He added, "We think this is important for Coquitlam because, obviously, we think there's a need and we want to make it a true destination opportunity to get people to come to us who might not be coming back anymore, and to draw new people to the resort facility."

In its annual report, published in March, GCGC recorded revenues of $383.5 million last year, an increase of $1.3 million over 2009, which the company attributed to improvements at Richmond's River Rock casino, where annual revenues rose by $16.5 million. Still, revenues dropped last year at its other holdings: Boulevard Casino, the Great American Casinos and the BC Racinos.

Blank said if the Boulevard hotel goes ahead, GCGC would model it after River Rock, a AAA four-diamond rated resort where another 200 hotel rooms will be open by November, around the Bridgeport Canada Line station.

A call to the Tri-Cities' Chamber of Commerce was not immediately returned but Coquitlam Coun. Mae Reid, chair of the city's land use committee, said she looks forward to seeing GCGC's hotel application.

"They're a good corporate citizen and it'll be a boon to shopping along United Boulevard, especially since we're planning to change the zoning down there with gas stations and restaurants," she said. "It's on the new freeway, too, so the timing is great. This is a big turning point for Coquitlam."

Mayor Richard Stewart also said more hotels are needed for Coquitlam, the fifth largest city in B.C., as it makes a push for sports tourism "to reach our world-class facilities."

Stewart said GCGC approached the city before the summer break to get feedback on its preliminary plans "and we made some comments on certain elements that would be of benefit to our community. We are pleased how things are shaping up and I'm pleased that they're going ahead with it. This is much needed in our community."

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