In Las Vegas, life revolves around casinos. If you eat at an elite restaurant, you will walk by a seemingly endless string of slot machines before you sit down at a white, cloth-covered table.
The same is true whether you're a business travellers or a clubgoer; chances are, you're spending your days and nights indoors.
Vancouver, on the other hand, is known for its vibrant outdoor lifestyle. Boats and bicycles are standard modes of transportation. Most of the city’s most popular destinations, such as Stanley Park and Capilano Suspension Bridge, are outdoor spectacles.
That’s why, on the face of it, Parq Vancouver seems an unlikely proposition. The $490 million project (C$643 million) is the brainchild of Paragon Gaming Holding Co., a privately held company that owns the Hard Rock in Lake Tahoe and has overseen the expansion of such quintessential Vegas properties as Excalibur and Luxor. Vancouver, meanwhile, has a small gaming footprint: When Paragon proposed a major casino in downtown Vancouver in 2010, not far from its existing Edgewater Casino, the plan was shot down—thanks, in part, to a group appropriately called Vancouver Not Vegas—and provoked a moratorium on casino growth.
Which brings us to Parq, in downtown Vancouver. It is the largest private development in British Columbia, a 775,000-square-foot property boasting 517 hotel rooms and eight restaurant and bars (more on all that in a minute), as well as 600 slot machines, 75 gaming tables, and a high-limit gaming floor with 11 luxury private salons.
Betting on VancouverThe property won’t be a Vegas-styled casino. It’s part of the wave of big, new, business traveler-friendly hotels such as the Ned in London, with plenty of top-quality dining options. Parq boasts 60,000 square feet of meeting space, with outdoor terraces, city views, meeting pods outfitted with residential furniture, and Vancouver's largest hotel ballroom on its fourth floor. The sixth floor is dedicated to a 30,000-square-foot open air park, dotted with hundreds of local pine trees in a nod to the city’s love of nature. The second floor has an entrance that leads directly to the neighbouring BC Place stadium, at which U2 recently kicked off the Joshua Tree tour. It’s the first casino in British Columbia with natural light streaming in.
Scott Menke, chief executive officer of Paragon, claims he didn’t choose Vancouver as a surrogate Vegas. “The more time that we spent in the marketplace and saw the diversity and the depth—and learned what Vancouver is all about—I really think that it’s the best location in North America right now," he said. "The revenues in Vancouver have grown consistently within the past 10 years; pretty much every other market has not seen a raise in table revenues.” In fact, the city is well-positioned for business growth. By the end of July, the number of nonstop flights between Vancouver and China will have increased by almost 24 percent in six months; in the next 18 months, it will increase by 46 percent, according to Business Vancouver.
Parq, which is scheduled to open in Vancouver in the fall—if all goes according to plan, the opening will correspond with a Sept. 29 Coldplay concert at BC Place—is a collaboration with Marriot International Inc., which has two separate concepts in the space. One is JW Marriott, with 329 rooms that include 48 suites—three offering private outdoor entertainment spaces and going for $10,000 a night in peak season. The second is the Douglas, a boutique-styled Autograph Collection hotel, which has 188 rooms and suites.
Another thing that makes Parq more Vancouver than Vegas is something as simple as elevators that take guests straight to their rooms, restaurant, and/or meetings, with no casino walkabouts.
Canada's Answer to the Vegas BuffetAnd then there are the restaurants, conceived by the James Beard-nominated, Las Vegas-based restaurateurs Elizabeth Blau and Kim Canteenwalla. The most notable is 1886, a palace of Chinese specialties. “We want to create one of the destination Chinese restaurants in North America,” said Blau over email. (At Wynn Las Vegas, Blau helped create Wing Lei, the first Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in the U.S.) “While there are a small handful of fine dining Chinese restaurants, most focus on Cantonese or Shanghainese specialties. We want to celebrate lesser known regions, especially in Northern China.” Blau is bringing in specialty chefs to run the dim sum and noodle programs. Because live seafood is key to upscale Chinese cooking, a large saltwater tank will showcase British Columbia species, as well as international fish and shellfish. High-limit rollers will be able to order to private salons and tables 24/7.
On the more casual side is Mrkt East, Parq’s answer to a Vegas-styled buffet, inspired by Blau and Canteenwalla’s travels around Southeast Asia. The horseshoe-shaped, hawker-styled market, designed by Vincent Celano of Celano Design, will be lined with booths specializing in tandoor-cooked meats and breads, curry bowls, and all kinds of dim sum. “As an urban resort that is focused on the community, we didn’t feel that a buffet or a food court really made sense,” observed Blau. More locally focused is BC Kitchen, which will specialize in Canadian comfort food: Look for plenty of poutine and burgers, as well as a wide variety of craft beers, with bottles and cans from all over the country. (Blau hopes this will become an all-important spot before and after Vancouver Canucks hockey games.)
New BusinessAmong the people rooting for Parq are Dave Gazley, a vice president at Tourism Vancouver. He noted the need for it: Vancouver has not seen major hotel development since the 2010 Olympics, in spite of unprecedented tourism growth over the past few years. More than 10 million people visited the city in 2016, the highest in its history. "We don't have enough hotel rooms in Vancouver at the moment," said Gazley. "Especially in the summer."
News by Bloomberg, edited by Hospitality Ireland