PavCo overhauls board, marketing focus

Watchdog says BC Place manager has failed to diversify revenue streams

With a recent history that includes the $514 million BC Placeoverhaul, a scuttled casino plan and collapsed Telus Corp.(TSX:T) naming rights deal, BC Pavilion Corp.(PavCo) is looking to reinvent itself with the largest leadership overhaul since 2007.

Gone, as of July 31, is former president and CEO Warren Buckley. Gone, too, are Canaccord Financial founding chairman Peter Brown and Singleton Urquhartconstruction lawyer Derek Brindle, who quit the board earlier this year amid the furore over the scuttled Telus-BC Place deal. PavCo chairman David Podmore has announced his resignation effective at month’s end but has committed to stay until a successor to Buckley can be recruited.

New board members are:

•former Vancouver city councillor and unsuccessful mayoral hopeful Suzanne Anton;

•Big White Ski Resort and Silver Star Mountain Resortssenior vice-president Michael Ballingall;

•architect and former three-term mayor of Victoria Alan Lowe;

•Grouse Mountain Resorts Ltd.president Stuart McLaughlin; and

•Don Zurowski,former Prince George city councillor and retired general manager and CEO of Community Futures Development of Fraser Fort George.

Podmore said the leadership shakeup marks PavCo’s shift back from a construction-oriented organization to one focused on marketing BC Place, the new west building of the Vancouver Convention Centre and PavCo’s leased space in Canada Place.

“The focus now is to carry forward with our marketing program and start to try and secure as many bookings as we can for all three venues, focusing really on the future years.”

Podmore added that he’s had a direct hand in shaping the new board to meet those goals.

“I gave recommendations in the spring to minister [Pat] Bell of the composition as I saw it with a mix of marketing, legal, financial, operations experience – and that’s what we’ve tried to do.”

Why bring in politicians such as Anton and Lowe to drive a marketing and operations agenda?

Podmore cited regional representation.

“That’s why you have [Zurowski], who has a very strong financial background in Prince George, Suzanne from Vancouver is very familiar with the operations of these venues and facilities, and Alan Lowe representing Vancouver Island.”

As of this year’s provincial budget, PavCo was projecting BC Place operating deficits of approximately $18 million this year, $8 million next and $23 million in 2014-15. Podmore acknowledged that PavCo’s marketing efforts need to focus on raising revenue at BC Place specifically, though he argued that most convention centres and stadiums run deficits.

“They’re intended to create economic activity in the community.”

But he said he expects to see PavCo land new business by highlighting the revamped stadium’s “spectacular” sound system and “very comfortable” summer temperatures.

Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said PavCo’s previous leadership has a lot to answer for.

“Their legacy is two beautiful buildings that taxpayers completely overpaid for,” Bateman said, pointing to cost overruns at the convention centre and BC Place’s hefty final pricetag.

“For many taxpayers, the BC Place roof has become a real lightning rod of disagreement between taxpayers and the government because to a lot of taxpayers it was just a misplaced priority.”

Bateman said the new board’s focus will need to be squarely on landing more events at its facilities – and particularly at BC Place.

“[PavCo] lost the funding model of the naming rights, they lost the funding model of the possible casino, so here we are,” he said. “We’ve got to find ways to get more events into these buildings to at least defray some of the costs for taxpayers.”

Podmore said he “absolutely” expects a smoother run ahead for the new PavCo board, now that it’s not dealing with construction projects.

But he denied that PavCo’s recent history has been “rocky.”

“I think, given the magnitude of what’s been done, it’s amazing that there aren’t more issues.” 

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