Playland's redevelopment into a theme park could be scaled back

Jun 25 2021, 7:15 pm

COVID-19 appears to have cast a shadow on the Pacific National Exhibition’s (PNE) long-sought plans to provide its amusement park with a major renovation and expansion for a dramatic transformation into a theme park destination.

A city staff report this month notes that the Playland redevelopment project has been impacted by the pandemic and escalating project costs.

“Significant capital investment is required with estimated capital costs for Playland exceeding available funding sources,” reads the report.

“Playland Redevelopment would require significant reinvestment of future revenues.”

The report also states that the plan to complete the redevelopment, even in phases, can no longer be accomplished within a 10-year timeframe. Prior to COVID-19, the PNE was aiming for a completion of the entire redevelopment before the end of this decade.

These findings are based on the project’s completed business case, which was delayed last year due to the pandemic.

A decision was made by PNE’s board of directors in April 2021 to pause the redevelopment, and revisit the project’s plans in early 2022 with “a focus on reducing the project scope.”

Additionally, it is also noted that “market interest in [a] potential partnership is limited.”

“Playland is a unique business and there are not a large number of companies around the world who have the resources and experience to partner. We did a reach out to reputable, experienced companies in this space and found that our unionized staff commitments and the fact that this park operates on land that is not for sale, meant that there were a limited number of partnership types available to partners,” said PNE spokesperson Laura Ballance in an email to Daily Hive Urbanized.

“Playland is not for sale. Our choice to partner in ways that enhance the park are more limited because of that.”

PNE Playland expansion

Early concept for the renovation and expansion of Playland at Hastings Park. (PNE)

Playland PNE

Site plan of the Playland redevelopment project. (PNE)

Previous preliminary concepts call for the redevelopment of the existing Playland footprint, and a northward expansion into the surface parking lot and a portion of the Hastings Racecourse’s barns. Playland would grow from 15 acres to 22 acres, with the attraction carved out into a handful of uniquely themed lands.

“We want it to be a better place to visit, with better attractions and programming. That is what this is really all about, making it a better entertainment option. But it’s also a nicer place to be, it’s not just asphalt as it’s also covered with trees and plants,” said John Brodie, the project manager of the PNE master plan, in early February 2020.

“It is more like a theme park that you might visit in Southern California, if you’ve been to a Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm. But it keeps the accessibility and affordability that has been a part of Playland today.”

Playland PNE

Artistic rendering of the Playland redevelopment project. (PNE)

Playland PNE

Artistic rendering of the Playland redevelopment project. (PNE)

Playland PNE

Artistic rendering of the Playland redevelopment project. (PNE)

In 2019, the PNE permanently closed and removed Playland’s iconic Corkscrew roller coaster in preparation for the construction of the northward expansion of the attraction.

Planning for the redevelopment first began about a decade ago, and when the PNE first presented its future Playland concept to the previous city council in 2016, the project’s cost was estimated to be $120 million. This includes $41 million for site redevelopment, $45 million for ride and attraction investments, $26 million for improved infrastructure, and $8 million for greening.

To fund the project, the municipal government would provide construction financing, which would be fully repaid by the PNE over time from the new revenues generated by a significant increase in Playland attendance.

Playland PNE

Artistic rendering of the Playland redevelopment project. (PNE)

Playland PNE

Artistic rendering of the Playland redevelopment project. (PNE)

playland pne

Model of the concept for the Playland redevelopment. (Kenneth Chan / Daily Hive)

While the Playland redevelopment is currently stalled, city council gave final approval this week to the PNE’s other major revitalization project — a $65-million new replacement covered outdoor amphitheatre for events and concerts. It will have a capacity for 9,340 spectators, along with modern infrastructure and amenities for event organizers and those attending events. Construction is expected to begin in 2024 for a completion by 2026 at the latest.

The municipal government will provide most of the construction financing required for the new amphitheatre, with the PNE repaying the city through new revenues generated by the venue’s greatly enhanced ability to attract events.

“Playland’s business case has a lower return profile compared to the Amphitheatre Renewal project,” reads the report.

Ballance said when the Hastings Park revitalization was first conceptualized, the PNE originally planned on rebuilding the amphitheatre and redeveloping Playland with a combined budget of $100 million.

“It has taken several years to get through a number of feasibility studies (parking and traffic flow, infrastructure planning, archeological, geotechnical, arborist studies, water and sewer flow, environmental assessment etc). This is a 125 year old site,” said Ballance.

“With each study, you get a clearer understanding of what costs might be incurred to ensure all issues and infrastructure is updated to accommodate a new venue or expanded amusement park. As well development costs continue to increase significantly each year.”

Ballance says with the costs of building the amphitheatre rising significantly, there is now only about $35 million left for the Playland redevelopment, and this is not enough to complete the work required.

“Combine this with the impact of COVID on the PNE’s finances and the PNE decided to move forward with the Amphitheatre first because planning was further ahead and it has a strong business case with shorter payback period.

“As revenues are generated by the Amphitheatre and the $65 million is paid back, this will free up money to do Playland the way it was intended. This doesn’t mean we will not invest in Playland at all. We will still continue to replace attractions, add entertainment and make improvements to the park each year, but we are pausing on the massive themed redevelopment until we know we have the funding to do it right. That’s what our guests deserves.”

The PNE, as a not-for-profit organization owned by the City of Vancouver, is currently in the midst of a financial crisis due to the pandemic’s ongoing impact on its revenues.

PNE and City of Vancouver officials have been pleading the provincial government for $8-million in emergency operating funding. Playland has reopened for a limited operating season and there are potential plans for a scaled-down Fair in August.

This article has been edited to include new additional commentary from the PNE.

playland pne

Model of the concept for the Playland redevelopment. (Kenneth Chan / Daily Hive)

Playland PNE

Site plan of the Playland redevelopment project. (PNE)

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

+ Listed
+ News
+ Development
+ Urbanized
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT