City staff are encouraging Kamloops city council to reject Gateway Casino’s bid to build an expanded casino in the former Rona building in Versatile, arguing it will weaken the downtown core.
In a report council will debate on Tuesday, July 29, the city’s planning department points to Kamloops’ official community plan (KAMPLAN) and city-centre plan as reasons to keep the casino downtown.
“General planning philosophy accepts that strong downtown centres help create a sense of place and community focus,” the report states, noting both plans stake out downtown as “one of the primary commercial and cultural centres in the city.”
In an unusual move, Gateway purchased the Rona property at 1555 Versatile Dr. from the hardware company without waiting to see if the city would approve the necessary zoning changes. The property is presently zoned for shopping centre use. The city does not designate land for casino use except on a case-by-case basis.
If council chooses to ignore staff’s recommendation, it would next consider rezoning the Rona at a public hearing at a later date.
That’s Coun. Pat Wallace’s preference.
“I’m always reluctant not to take something to a public hearing and air it well,” she said. “Because there’s not just KAMPLAN involved. There’s a lot of money with a casino.”
Casinos pay 10 per cent of their net gaming revenue to host municipalities.
In 2013, Kamloops picked up more than $1.8 million from Lake City.
CEO Tony Santo told KTW earlier this year the company plans to convert the former big-box store into a $34-million casino featuring restaurants and pubs, a 500-seat amphitheatre, 600 slot machines and 20 gaming tables.
The new casino would be rebranded from Cascades Casino and Santo estimated it would create 110 new jobs.
“We’re confident that the city and community will be onside,” Santo said when questioned about the company’s decision to purchase the building in advance of a zoning decision. “As you know, Kamloops hosts the head office of the BCLC [B.C. Lottery Corporation] and we would like to build a facility that warrants that type of exposure.”
Gateway held a series of open houses at the Versatile site earlier this year, which appeared to attract mainly supportive community members.
Mayor Peter Milobar has also spoken in favour of Gateway’s expansion plans, telling KTW in April he’s been pushing for a better class of casino for five years — provided a casino is an appropriate use for the former Rona site.
City staff did give council one argument in favour of the relocation bid — the site’s current designation as a shopping centre.
“Shopping-centre categories permit a wide range of retail, personal service, and entertainment uses,” the report notes.
“The role of casinos in general is shifting to entertainment designations with multiple complementary uses, such as hotels, restaurants, and live entertainment.”