Traditionally, Las Vegas has set the bar for casino innovations. In the past decade, however, that has changed because of the proliferation of gaming. There have been tremendous strides taken in casino design in Macau, as well as innovative games and systems on the floors of California tribal casinos. And Parq Vancouver, a soon-to-open British Columbia property, may be redefining the boutique urban resort.
Boutique hotels have been getting hotter in Las Vegas, between hotels-within-hotels such as Caesars Palace’s Nobu Hotel, the forthcoming Park MGM and NoMad Hotel, and new projects like Lucky Dragon. They are also becoming more important to casino projects around the world.
Parq Vancouver is on the leading edge of this transformation. Physically it looks not unlike a standard hotel tower: a very broad, glass-clad U. This design splits its 517 rooms and suites into two towers that house its two hotels—a JW Marriott Parq Vancouver (western Canada’s first) and the DOUGLAS (an Autograph Collection, also first to market), which is named for the Douglas fir trees native to British Columbia. It will have five restaurants and three bar/lounges conceived by Las Vegas–based Blau + Associates that stress regional cuisines and ingredients.
Parq Vancouver’s positioning as an urban resort places it in the mainstream of global casino development. From New England to the Rust Belt and Asia, developers are downplaying the gambling floor and highlighting amenities. This strategy allows new projects to counter critics who fear that gambling-centric casinos will contribute little to an urban economy and attract few non-players. It also gives them room to differentiate themselves from the competition, a crucial point in an age of—if not saturation-—ubiquity.
The emphasis on nongaming works, projects from Las Vegas Sands Corp.’s Singapore mega resort to MGM National Harbor have won praise and done good business.
Parq Vancouver’s developer, Paragon Gaming, is a company with roots in Las Vegas that has, over the past decade, specialized in western Canadian gaming properties. Paragon CEO and co-founder Scott Menke is enthused about his company’s latest venture.
“We just fell in love with the city,” he says. “It’s so diverse, with so much to do. We had an opportunity to build a property that would be additive, bringing a luxury hotel product and restaurants to an entertainment destination.”
The core of that entertainment destination is the duo of BC Place Stadium and Rogers Arena, which host the BC Lions (football), Vancouver Whitecaps FC (soccer) and the Vancouver Canucks (hockey), as well as a host of concerts and special events. It’s the kind of synergy that Las Vegas is trying to create with T-Mobile Arena and Las Vegas Stadium. Paragon, though, is walking into a turnkey athletic/entertainment district. Its performance may help guide the Strip’s reaction to big-league sports.
Menke is excited about working with the province of British Columbia and city of Vancouver to present what he calls an “elevated gaming experience” that includes all the amenities mentioned above plus something extra: “We want to bring the Las Vegas sense of community to Vancouver. We understand that to be successful, we have to be respectful to the environment and community we are building in.”
Parq Vancouver’s food and beverage program, helmed by Blau + Associates’ Elizabeth Blau and Kim Canteenwalla, demonstrates Menke’s approach. The food will be authentic to British Columbia and presented in a way that doesn’t bring Las Vegas to Vancouver, but instead brings the quality of product and service associated with Strip resorts to western Canada. Blau and Canteenwalla bring with them, Menke says, “a philosophy, not a template.”
Menke is quick to credit Paragon chair of the board and co-founder Diana Bennett for her vision and investors David Goodman of Dundee Corporation and Paul Bouzanis of the PBC Group for their contributions, as well as the city of Vancouver, which has helped to shape the project. He credits Vancouver’s place on the international stage as a key factor in Paragon’s decision to invest so heavily in Parq Vancouver.
“People in Las Vegas have not had the opportunity to discover Vancouver yet,” Menke says. “It’s only a two-and-a-half-hour direct flight. It’s got great connectivity to the Asia-Pacific region and a growing convention center. It’s becoming an international hub.”
The numbers bear Menke out. Overall visitation to Vancouver is up 2.7 percent through May 2017, with tourists from Asia and the Pacific up nearly 14 percent. The city is likewise seeing impressive increases from Mexico and Europe. While Las Vegas still handily beats Vancouver in annual visitor volume (42.9 million vs. 10 million), the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority might be slightly envious about those trend lines.
So don’t be surprised if, sooner rather than later, the Golden Knights and Canucks develop a keen rivalry—their hometowns have more in common than you might think.